Domestic Violence And The Strange Case of Rihanna Brown

By Janine Theriault, Staff Writer

Blaming The Victim And Letting Of Easy the Aggressor

HOLLYWOOD (RushPRnews) 03/18/09 – One of the latest and most disturbing revelations to come out of the sordid Rihanna and Chris Brown affair is a recent study done of 200 Boston area 12-19 year-old in which nearly half of them put the blame for the savage beating on the female part of the equation (52 per cent said “they were both to blame”). Just to clarify, that’s the victim of the beating, the one allegedly strangled to the point of unconsciousness. Somehow, many people are dismayed to realize, these kids believe the woman must be the root of male aggression – that he can’t really be held responsible for his own actions.

Should people be truly surprised by these results when the kids being interviewed are raised on ultra-violent images and inundated with misogynist lyrics? The old maxim “you are what you eat” pertains to digestion of all kinds; not just the absorption of first-hand violence-as-usual, but the constant brags of rappers beating their “bitches” has brought this oppression-as-normalcy to the burbs in full force. Disturbing? Oh, yes. Surprising? Not so much. We’ve all let our collective guards down as to the sources young people are actually creating their realities from. We’re just seeing the sad results.

When one takes into consideration the shear volume of de-humanized or overtly sexualized (same thing) images of women in American marketing we are all inundated with 24/7, the rise in misogynistic thinking should seem a logical outcome. This exploitative type of image making victimizes women in general, and now one poor young woman in particular. Rihanna appears to have been the victim of first, her boyfriend’s sense of entitlement, and now perhaps, her own public image.

It may be hard now to remember, but Chris Brown had a squeaky-clean, and very convincing image that’s hard for anyone, let alone kids, to distinguish from reality. That’s what millions of marketing dollars will do, and it’s supposed to be hard to refute.

Rihanna’s image, however, is…not so clean-cut, or cut-and-dry. Kids have been asked to believe that she’s “a good girl gone bad”, who makes many of her professional appearances in what amounts to bondage gear. These images kids have been seeing are perfect fodder for the old “she had it coming”, or “she must have provoked him” misogynist fallback position, for both males and females. But, again, one wouldn’t be in the right to assign the blame for her marketing on Rihanna: when you’re young and talented and from a disadvantaged background, and someone holding the key to your dreams tells you they can guarantee stardom in exchange for showing a lot of flesh, you’re likely to say ‘when and how much’. Wherever the idea for Rihanna’s provocative image came from (the smart money’s on the record exec’s), it’s come back to re-victimize her now, and with a vengeance.

All of this speculation as to why so much ire has been directed at Rihanna, the victim, aside – it must be remembered that the person with the need for hospital care is the victim, part of what defines a victim is not being responsible for one’s abuse, and all victims of any type of assault deserve our support and understanding, not judgment and derision.

Sadly, again, mass insult is being added to serious injury by criticism of Rihanna for her choices, brought to a head with the reports she’s taken Brown back.

A little research into women who experience threats, controlling behavior and violence at the hands of their loved ones will reveal what a classic example Rihanna’s reaction to her situation truly is. A large percentage of battered women grew up with violence being the norm in relationships they knew; it’s much harder to be outraged at your mistreatment when everything you’ve experienced tells you that treatment is perfectly normal. Even battered women for whom violence is not the norm will have had their self-worth and confidence so skillfully and steadily eroded over time by their partner’s emotional control that her normal inner resources might be utterly depleted.

Which brings us to resources, another oft-cited reason for returning to an abusive relationship. No, Rihanna is not likely to go homeless if she leaves Brown, but her career and finances, and the finances of a conglomerate of people responsible for her current and future celebrity, are tied up in her partnership with Brown – both personally and fiscally (witness their rumored duet as a case in point). It’s hard to imagine the pressure to not rock the boat this would cause in a 21-year-old’s head.

Then, of course, there’s love and fear – the two major reasons women say they stay with their abuser – and it’s hard to deny what powerful motivators these primal emotions are.

All this to say, we in the public need to stop viewing the behavior of battered women as inexplicable or weak; a little informed understanding will be much more empowering and healing for them, and for our society in general. A little informed understanding, please.

Some useful links for sites/stats on domestic violence:

http://www.beckysfund.org/cms/index.php?page=domestic-violence-prevalence-and-research

http://newsite.vday.org/

http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/abstract/fvs.htm

http://www.dvinstitute.org/media/publications/FactSheet.IDVAAC_AAPCFV-Community%20Insights.pdf