Recently, the media has been overflowing with passionate commentary on the alleged reconciliation between R & B singers, Rihanna and Chris Brown. Everyone from Oprah to students all across America are offering their insights and condemnations on blog postings. Let there be no confusion, Rihanna is the victim of dating violence. She is not responsible for the battery and she cannot, nor should she be, blamed for Brown's actions. As for Brown, there is no but or however statement that can emancipate him.
Yet, support for Rihanna is fleeting and the judgment is quick and severe. We place celebrities on pedestals, labeling them as role models whom we expect to be superhuman. Entangled in society's materialistic fantasies about the life of luxury and stardom, we forget that celebrities are people. Strip away the glamour, the voice, and Rihanna is a just a 21 year-old woman - her emotions and reactions are no different from the millions of young women walking the streets in obscurity.
As difficult as relationships are, the effects of domestic violence have the victim balancing precariously on a tense tight rope. Women experiencing domestic abuse are imprisoned in their relationships. Domestic abuse is a cycle - tension, an acute battering incident, and ultimately, respite. The lull between violence and peace gives women hope that the abuser has reformed, and that the abuse was a time-limited lapse in judgment. They convince themselves it is a mistake, and as the mistakes pile up, their false sense of hope is replaced by fear. An abuser uses any form of violence, whether it is verbal, emotional, psychological or physical, as a means of communication. Regardless of how horrendous their actions are, abusers are human too. They cannot change overnight and without help they do not see the error in their ways. However, with society's common tendency to point the finger at the victim, an abuser only receives affirmation for his/her actions versus the therapy he/she desperately needs.
For the victims who are able to muster up courage and step out of an abusive relationship, the recovery process is not an easy task. These women are subject to stalking, feeling an incessant need to look behind their shoulders, having abusers return and attempting to hurt or kill them for leaving. The abusers are angry that their victims have relinquished themselves from the abusive control - the basis of all domestic violence is the need for power and control. Because some women are unable to deal with this new lifestyle of living in paranoia, many sadly return to their abusive partners.
Women from all over the country have sent us passionate testimonials about domestic violence and the majority of women gave the relationship another try. Their partners beg them for a second chance; they shower them with gifts and empty promises, attempting to provide proof of future behavioral changes. From the outside, the decision to return may have seemed irrational and counterintuitive, but victims of abuse are driven by love and a misguided dream of what the relationship could be or has been. They feel a strong connection to their partner, a sense of comfort, a belief that they are still in love, and hope that they can help change their partner's abusive behavior.
Rihanna is not alone in her decision to return to an abusive relationship. She, like fellow victims of violence, is too emotionally and mentally battered by the abuse to make a smart decision of staying away. Instead of vilifying her, we should encourage her to be strong. We should give her opportunities to rebuild her self-confidence and an identity outside of a relationship with Brown.
The Rihanna and Brown incident should be seen as a high-profile testament to a culture of unhealthy relationships embedded in our society. Youth dating violence occurs because education is lacking, prevention is an afterthought and a lack of visible role models who have successfully broken the domestic violence cycle. Rihanna is part of the statistic that one in three women will experience relationship abuse. We, as a global community, have not provided young people with the information to think with emotional clarity and choose safety.
The problem stems from a lack of accountability for abusers. We tout sentiments of responsibility, but the difference between action and punishment is a disproportional response, a slap on the wrist instead of the demonstration of genuine condemnation. Brown has been pictured gallivanting around the country, seemingly unremorseful, not hiding out to contemplate his decisions and actions. Domestic abuse therapy is a long-term commitment; curbing the desire to communicate through abuse cannot be fast-tracked. Brown is not a reformed young man. What messages are we sending to men? Why should they stop battering their partners? If the preventative deterrent for men to end the abuse is unconvincing and ill-publicized, then the answer is that the cycle of abuse not only continues but is subconsciously accepted.
While Rihanna has chosen to live her life in the public eye, she is still a person, a victim of abuse. She is already confused and questioning every decision; the barrage of media inquiry and public statements made by fellow celebrities only adds to her feeling of powerlessness. The backlash against Rihanna-statements that question her intelligence, smearing her as stupid and irrational- and the calls to end her relationship immediately, are interpreted as expressions of control rather than support. By instructing her on the correct response, we deny Rihanna self-autonomy. In the same way that an abuser seeks to control the relationship, we (the media, domestic violence advocates, fans, individual Americans) want to control her recovery. To empower Rihanna, we must stand behind her; encourage her to stand up for her rights as an individual and as a woman. We should demonstrate our support by providing her with the privacy to struggle, to go over her options and make her own choices when she is ready.
Leaving an abusive relationship is not a single act. It is impossible to compare the ending of an abusive relationship to a normal one. It does not culminate by walking out the door or breaking-up with the abuser. Survivors of domestic violence must decide everyday to not make contact with their ex-partner or return to the relationship and they must remind themselves that their past edited and romanticized in their minds, is a false reality. Rihanna has to be both willing and mentally prepared to end her relationship and stay away or the cycle of abuse will continue. Survival is a continuous internal tug of war and we, as a society, do a disservice, to victims, to the domestic violence community, and to the 16-24 year old population-the generation most in need of positive reinforcement and at-risk for abuse- by belittling this struggle.
Every day, women try to leave abusive relationships and they fail. Why should women come forward with their stories or reach out for support to end a violent relationship, when public perception rationalizes abuse and re-victimizes the victim? Women remain silent because society condemns them for their mistakes instead of reaching out and soothing a frightened soul. Domestic violence creates a lonely existence because we mute the victims. It's time we found the volume dial and allowed their voices to be heard when they are ready to speak out.
To learn more about the warning signs of dating and domestic violence and how you can help support a friend, co-worker or family member experiencing abuse - please visit www.beckysfund.org