Love Doesn’t Hurt: OWN’s Greenleaf Addresses Teen Dating Violence


In 2015, I co-authored an article on dating violence among college students. In honor of national Domestic Violence month (October), I wanted to update that article and explore teenage dating violence as seen through the lens of Zora on the critically acclaimed T.V. show Greenleaf.

Intimate partner violence (IPV) is identified as a serious social and public health problem in the United States. It is also associated with many negative consequences and long-term health concerns.  IPV is defined as perceived or actual physical, psychological or sexual harm by a current tor former partner (Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 2012). Now, more than ever, youth are experiencing teen dating violence.  According to the CDC, 21% of females, and 10% of males surveyed reported experiencing physically or sexual violence in a dating relationship.

There are multiple risk factors for teen dating violence. They include, but are not limited to, individual factors such as to low self-esteem, insecurity, depression, and alcohol and/or drug use. Several relationship factors include marital discord, financial stress, and unhealthy family interactions. Additionally, community factors such as poverty, and a lack of social connections can all increase a person’s risk for being involved in teenage dating violence.

Early Warning Signs

Greenleaf, which airs on the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN), examined domestic violence among a young couple, Zora Greenleaf (Lovie Simone) and Isaiah Hambrick (Roshon Fegan). Zora is a smart and sassy young woman who was born into a wealthy family. In season 2, her parents moved, out of her grandparent’s mansion, into house in a working-class neighborhood on the other side of town. Her parents love her, but are busy and distracted with their own lives. During this transition, Zora develops a crush on a Christian rap musician who takes an interest in her.  She falls hard for him.  Over time, his flattery turns into bouts of anger.  Zora struggles to reconcile the excitement she feels when she is with him and the verbal abuse he dishes out on her.


Zora and Isaiah, studio scene:

The Cycle of Violence:

Over time, Zora also experiences physical abuse, and and is pressured sexually by boyfriend. She increasingly isolates herself and spends less time with her cousin, and best friend, Sophia Greenleaf (Desiree Ross).  When Sophia confronts her on Isaiah’s explosive temper, and her belief that cousin she knows would never let anyone mistreat her.  Zora promises to leave Isaiah, but never does.

In one episode, Zora asks Isaiah to escort her to her cotillion, but he has plans for them to go to a concert that same weekend. When he pushes for her to go with him instead, she defies him and says she will go without him. Upset and  angry, he uses his car to hurt her. She demands he takes her home and remains defiant. He then ,reluctantly, agrees to take her to the cotillion.

greenleaf_car scene

Zora and Isaiah, car scene:

Later, at the cotillion rehearsal, Isaiah accuses Zora of wanting to spend more time with her cousin Sophia then with him after she (Sophia) calls him out for being self-centered and egotistical.  He then angrily storms out and Zora nervously runs behind him trying to reassure him that is not the case.  Following another physical altercation, Isaiah apologizes and says he gets so crazy because he loves her.  She forgives him once again.

Zora and Isaiah, cotillion practice:

The Confrontation:

Season 2 culminates with Sophia observing Isaiah hitting Zora at the cotillion. Concerned, Sophia tells Zora’s dad Jacob Greenleaf (Lamman Rucker) what happened. Jacob confronts Isaiah. Both Isaiah and Zora deny any abuse.  While locked in bathroom, Isaiah calls Zora and apologizes. She finally confronts him on their cycle of abuse, but forgives him again and runs away from home to be with him.  greeleaf_cotillion.3

Jacob confronts Isaiah:

Zora’s story is representative of so many women who love men who hurt them.  They find themselves consumed with their relationship with their partner. Many wonder why would a strong, confident and attractive young woman allow herself to be mistreated.  The answer is not as simple as it may seem. Low self worth, past trauma, depression and and the lack of experience to understand how to negotiate emotional needs in a relationship.  The best way to address teenage dating violence is through prevention. Educating young people on the signs of violent behavior can prevent future occurrences. The best way to help a teen who have already experienced teen dating violence is by supporting them during this tough time. It is important to support them and listen to what they are saying. Help them develop a safety plan. Let them know that they are worthy and valuable.  Link them to online and offline community supports. I have provided a list of resources at the end of this article.

Love cherishes the other. Real love does not hurt!

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  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
  2. Provides comprehensive research and resources on teen dating/intimate partner violence.
  3. National Dating Abuse Helpline and Love is Respect: or 1-866-331-9474 or text loveis to 22522
  4. National Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)
  5. National Sexual Assault Hotline 1-800-656-HOPE (4673)
  6. National Sexual Violence Resource:
  7. Teen Dating Violence Resources:


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