The former Spice Girl, 41, filed for divorce from Stephen Belafonte, also 41, last month, and later filed a temporary restraining order in which she vividly described his alleged abuses that date back almost a decade.
For instance, she claims that on the night of her Dancing with the Stars finale in November 2007 he choked her and slammed her head onto a hardwood floor. She said it was part of a pattern: “When something good would happen for me, he would beat me down to let me know that he was in charge.”
She also claims that he punched her with a closed fist in July 2012 after he believed she was flirting with Usher while taping an episode of The X Factor.
The singer additionally alleges that he hit her again one month later, a day after she took part in the London Olympics closing ceremony. She claims he hit her again with a closed fist and pushed her down onto a carpet, which caused a rug burn. She claims he then forced her to tweet out that the rug burn happened after she was running around Prague in Christian Louboutin heels.
Brown also claims that Belafonte “demanded that I participate in sexual intercourse with him and random women that he brought back to our hotel rooms.” The star says that if she objected, Belafonte would threaten to release compromising videos of her – including those taped of such encounters — without her permission.
“I have lived the past decade in fear that [Belafonte] would release intimate videos of me that would embarrass me and damage my reputation and my career,” she states in her declaration. “Once [he] made the threat of releasing videos, it became impossible to say no to him, giving him complete control.”
Kelly Coyne, Safe Horizon’s vice president of domestic violence shelters, tells PEOPLE her story “matches what we often hear from clients.”
“In domestic relationships, the abuser tries to gain and maintain power and control over victims,” she says. “They often escalate behaviors to continue maintaining that power.”
National Coalition Against Domestic Violence Executive Director Ruth Glenn, herself a survivor, tells PEOPLE that abusers are often triggered to act when their partner achieves a level of success or independence, and that the physical violence is typically only one part of the abuse.
“Whether it’s Mel B or anyone else, the tactics of an abuser include physical abuse, restraining them from things they want or have to do, making them feel not good enough,” she says. “Many victims will tell you the physical abuse is nothing to the psychological abuse — feeling humiliated, shamed. It really results in many survivors feeling PTSD for the rest of their lives.”
All the experts point out that domestic violence victims come from all socio-economic backgrounds, and it can be difficult for all victims — regardless of wealth or stature — to walk away.
“We forget victims of domestic violence did not become associated with an abuser simply because they expected abuse,” says Glenn. “Abusers are very good at grooming and bringing you in and making you fall in love.”
Indeed, as Brown recounts in her declaration, she now sees their courtship as the start of Belafonte’s grooming behavior. “At the time, I was vulnerable. I was giving birth as a single mother, my self-esteem was very low, and my hormones were out of balance due to the pregnancy,” she claims. “[Belafonte] rushed to help me in every way … However, [his] kindness quickly turned sour as he became controlling, manipulative and abusive.”
Coyne points out that stars, like other victims, likely worry that leaving could trigger the abuser to do something even more dangerous, and the situation becomes even more complicated when children are involved.
“There is an idea that we see in the movies that survivors can just hide and get away, but when there are parenting concerns and other responsibilities that doesn’t really happen,” she says. “Whatever it was that caused his violence to escalate likely has the survivor worried about what might happen when she really chooses to leave the relationship.”
Kristen Paruginog, the founder and managing advocate for Break the Silence Against Domestic Violence, is also a domestic abuse survivor and says she relates to Mel B’s description of abuse.
“When it comes to women like her in the public eye, people think she is exempt from problems real people deal with, but the truth is one in three women will fall victim to domestic violence — there is no disclaimer that women with a high status are exempt,” she says.
Paruginog says leaving an abuser can be terrifying.
“You have to imagine what she might be thinking as far as her children are concerned. She might think, ‘What if he kills me?’ Situations like what Mel B is describing happen daily.”
All three experts say that if you suspect a friend or coworker is a victim of abuse, let her lead the way.
“[Victims] are the experts in their lives. She’s been managing her safety for 10 years, even if it doesn’t make sense to you or I. One thing you can say to the person is, ‘I’ve noticed that you’ve had bruises or bumps and I’m worried about you. I want you to know I’m here,'” says Coyne.
“Be their support,” she says. “They know better than us how dangerous things are or how barriers might be removed to help them find safety.”
If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic violence, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.