This past Sunday morning, it was reported that the musical artist, Chris Brown got into a bitter exchange of words and a physical altercation with a woman, widely identified as Rihanna. Eyewitnesses report that the situation got so violent that people ended up calling 911. Rumors will continue to spread in the aftermath of this incident and it will be hard to discern truth from fiction. One fact, however, is certain: this is yet another testament to the fact that domestic violence does not discriminate against anyone and is a critical issue that needs to be addressed in our community today.
This horrific situation happens only two days after the end of National Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Week, a three-year-old effort to target and teach 16-24 year olds, the most-at-risk age group for domestic violence, about the warning signs of dating violence.
We are constantly peering into the lives of celebrities with an awe and desire to elevate our own status and become a part of their reality. The gossip surrounding the Rihanna and Chris Brown incident demonstrated that although the lifestyle of celebrities is materialistically glamorous it is not emotionally immune to the difficulties of human interaction. Life is not idyllic- it is merely life popularized for the public with the same pitfalls and harsh realities that each of us experience on a daily basis.
Domestic violence is a universal problem blind to income, age, race, status, religion, and physical appearance. It is often a silent assailant crippling victims of their self-confidence and denying them independence. Victims, the majority whom are women, endure abusive relationships because they feel partially responsible for their suffering, they are fearful for themselves or their children, and they are unaware of resources available to break the cycle of abuse.
A study published by Francine Lavoie in 2002 about dating relationships and abuse found that "both victims and abusers attribute the responsibility for violent dating behavior to victims, caused by: provocation by the girl; the victim's personality type; the girl's need for affection; communication problems; and peer group influence." Only 33 % of domestic violence victims ever come forward about their abusive relationships and because of these widely held inaccurate beliefs, women - our friends, our neighbors, our coworkers - are stripped of their voice and forced to suffer in silence.
Dating violence is a cycle of abuse. Most relationships do not begin with physical violence, they begin with control and often the victim allows their partner to be controlling- commandeering free time, choosing what clothes to wear, constantly checking in via text message, email or phone call, and verbal belittling. Before we fall in love or invest time and energy in a relationship, it is often easier to leave, to place one's needs and self-confidence above his or her partner's. However, once one can conjure up memories of happier times, it is easy to fall into the trap of holding onto the romanticized glimmer of possibility and hope that that person can change.
Moreover, we should classify dating violence as a cyclical behavior because it is a learned behavior. Generalized feelings of female inferiority and male domination are normalized through social and cultural acceptance. Witnesses of domestic violence at home often become subjects to or perpetrators of violence in their future relationships. Chris Brown in an interview in Giant in 2007 is quoted as saying, "My stepfather used to hit my mom. He made me terrified all the time, terrified like I had to pee on myself," he told the magazine. "I remember one night he made her nose bleed. I was crying and thinking, 'I'm just gonna go crazy on him one day ... ' I hate him to this day."
To prevent the violence, we have to educate youth about healthy relationships and provide them with an environment for a safe, open dialogue. We have to move the discussion about domestic violence from the wings of the private sphere into the epicenter. If healthy relationships and respect for others is not being taught at home, it is the responsibility of schools to teach it, model it, and enforce it in the classroom.
Empowering young women and girls to be self-assured and teaching young men to respect their partners as equals could transform the dynamics of relationships. Human interactions will never be simple; they will forever be riveted with emotion, confusion, and passion- that's what makes them exciting. Yet, there is a difference between excitement and danger.
For the millions of us, at the end of the day, we are all individuals grasping at the chaos. We fail and we triumph- no one is superhuman and everyone could use a healthy dose of self-assurance.
Create a new cycle - model healthy relationships.
To learn more about the signs of dating violence and what you can do to help a friend dealing with abuse, please go to www.beckysfund.org