Penn Badgley, who plays murderous psychopath in Netflix's 'You', condemns violence against women

Between 2000 and 2012, the number of women who were killed by their intimate partners was more than double the number of U.S. soldiers killed at war.
Image: Penn Badgley appears on TODAY in New York on Jan. 22, 2019.
Penn Badgley appears on TODAY in New York on Jan. 22, 2019.Nathan Congleton / NBC

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By Gwen Aviles

Penn Badgley may play a murderous psychopath in Netflix's "You," but in real-life, he's an outspoken advocate against gender-based violence.

"One misconception might be that gender-based violence only happens to weak people, to weak women and girls, to unintelligent women and girls, to minority or lower socioeconomic status, impoverished women and girls," Badgley said in an interview with Teen Vogue. "It happens, as far as I understand, across all segments of society, across all populations, all cultures."

Badgley's correct; gender-based violence doesn't discriminate on the basis of race, culture or age. According to World Health Organization, a global advocacy institution, an estimated 35 percent of women worldwide have experienced physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime.

Badgely also highlights the prevalence of emotional abuse in his interview, acknowledging that violence against women can often manifest as psychological warfare. Nearly half of U.S. women have experienced psychological abuse, reports the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. More subtle than physical or sexual violence, psychological abuse can occur when a person convinces their partner that their feelings are invalid, controls their behavior and undermines their self-worth.

As of late, Badgley has been working closely with the Tahirih Justice Center, a national organization that focuses on aiding immigrant women and girls feeling gender-based violence and persecution through services, training and policy advocacy. He became involved with the organization because of his friendship with Layli Miller-Muro, its founder, and recently toured a detention center in El Paso, which an experience he described as "hard."

"The whole thing is racist and evidently arbitrary," Badgley said of the the detention center. "It was disturbing to say the least."

Badgley's advocacy against gender-based violence marks a direct contrast with his role as Joe Goldberg in "You," a New York bookstore manager who stalks, manipulates and eventually kills his partner. "You" is based on the bestselling novel of the same name by Caroline Kepnes.

The show recently returned for season 2, during which the character moves to Los Angeles and targets another woman, continuing the cycle of violence.

Badgley told Entertainment Weekly that he was "conflicted with the nature of the role" and didn't want to accept it at first, though the show is topical. Between 2000 and 2012, the number of women who were killed by their intimate partners was more than double the number of U.S. soldiers killed at war, according to "No Visible Bruises," a book by Rachel Louise Snyder that examines domestic violence.

The role has also drawn controversy, as Badgley himself has warned viewers not to normalize or overlook Joe's behavior. Yet Badgley has also said he hopes the role can present an opportunity to openly discuss and probe gender-based violence.

"It is a deconstructive exercise, examination and commentary, which is an important step in the process toward justice and equality for us all," Badgley told Teen Vogue. "I think what we learn by watching a show like mine right now ... is how bad things are in a very quiet way, that we don't always examine in these gender roles and media."