Fans of America’s Got Talent are at this point well-versed in judge Simon Cowell’s jerk ways, and know it’s rare that he actually get his comeuppance. But fellow judge Melanie Brown (AKA Mel B) was not at all having it from Simon this week, throwing water on him after he made a joke about her marriage.

Brown, as Cowell surely knows, is going through a painful divorce that included allegations of physical abuse on the part of her estranged husband, Stephen Belafonte. Domestic violence, obviously, is never a lighthearted matter, and Mel’s divorce from her allegedly abusive husband reminds us that the issue impacts the lives of hundreds of thousands of women in the US alone.

The “joke” Cowell made was meant to be a jab at a contestant, and also at Mel B, after an escape artist botched his performance: “I kind of imagine this would be a lot like Mel’s wedding night. A lot of anticipation, not much promise or delivery.”

Clearly and rightfully upset, Mel threw the contents of her water cup directly at Cowell, then left the judge’s desk where they’d both been sitting. Mel B later said the water toss was a joke, but she also sent the message that it’s simply not okay to joke about an abusive relationship. Meanwhile, Twitter users took notice — and were not impressed.

Unfortunately, domestic abuse is pretty common in the US. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, one in three women and one in four men will experience domestic violence at some point in life. Though anyone can be abused by a partner, women experience more domestic violence overall, and more “severe” domestic violence, at a rate of one in four women compared to one in seven men.

Young women are also especially vulnerable to domestic violence. Love Is Respect, an organization dedicated to educating teens about healthy relationships, states that girls and young women between 16 and 24 experience the most domestic violence.

In light of the experience of victims of domestic violence, Cowell’s comments are more than just a sorry excuse for a joke, but dangerous. Cowell’s comments about Mel B’s wedding night totally ignore the very real possibility that perhaps Mel’s wedding night with an alleged abuser WAS terrible… for her. These remarks also could normalize abusive relationships by referring to them as if they were normal or healthy.

This is especially scary in light of the fact that many young women report not being able to identify domestic abuse. According to Love Is Respect, 57 percent of college students say they have trouble recognizing domestic violence, and even when they can identify it, 58 percent say they don’t know what to do to help if someone they know is being abused.

Given the sheer number of people who are abused by romantic partners and the physically dangerous nature of domestic violence, one would hope that everyone, even Simon Cowell, could find a way not to be a jerk to a reported survivor. Because what Mel B did by leaving her husband was probably not easy.

For various reasons, survivors of reported domestic violence often face difficulties leaving their abuser. Sometimes it’s for financial reasons (abusive significant others sometimes make their partner financially dependent on them), other times because the abuser has made threats. But for those who are interested in supporting women who are in an abusive relationship, there are many ways to help.

The National Domestic Abuse Hotline is a free hotline and chat service, and says that it’s very important to listen to victims and let them know you believe them. As the hotline notes, domestic violence is about intimidation and power, so it’s vital to help survivors feel supported and know that you and others are there to help.

For friends and family of abused people, it can help to invite them out of the house where they can get away from their partner and around people who care about them. It can also help to make a safety plan based on their own decisions. This might mean making a safety plan for getting out of a house they share with an abuser, or helping them figure out how to stay safe if they decide to remain in the relationship. Love Is Respect also offers support over phone, text, or online chat.

We’ve long known that Simon Cowell isn’t a particularly sensitive guy, but he went too far with his comments about Mel’s marriage, and whether or not she was joking, she was right to let him know his remarks weren’t welcome. Domestic violence should never be made into a joke, especially not at the expense of a reported survivor.

What do you think of what happened between Mel B and Simon Cowell? Tell us on Twitter @BritandCo.

(Photos via Nicholas Hunt/Getty)