By: Gaétane Borders
It was just over a year ago that the world was shocked to learn that Pop’s Princess had been brutally beaten by her then boyfriend. The picture of a facially bruised and swollen Rihanna was later leaked to the world, and everyone heard the allegations against Chris Brown. Reports indicated that he had punched, bitten, and threatened to kill Rihanna while riding around Los Angeles in his car. Brown pleaded guilty to felony assault in June, and was sentenced to five years' probation in addition to 1,400 labor-oriented community service hours. Both Chris and Rihanna later appeared in primetime interviews to address their side of the highly publicized crime.
So, whose side did the public take? With the graphic picture of Rihanna’s bloodied face in the media and all over the internet, you would think that everyone would come to her defense.
However, in a survey done by the Boston Public Health Commission, almost half of Boston-area teenagers said Rihanna was responsible for Chris Brown's attack. The survey of 200 Boston youths age 12 to 19 found that 51% said Brown held responsibility, 46% said Rihanna was responsible, and 52% said both were to blame for the incident. In addition, 52% said the media was treating Brown unfairly, and "a significant number of males and females" surveyed said Rihanna was destroying Brown's career.
In her interview with Diane Sawyer, Rihanna acknowledged that she had personally received many messages from people who blamed her for what transpired that night. So how can this be that the one who is beaten is at fault? According to adolescent experts interviewed by the New York Times, girls “are quick to blame Rihanna in order to distance themselves from her.” Thus, acknowledging Brown’s attack would make them feel vulnerable (ie. How could they have a crush on someone who could do that?).
I like to look at it more simplistically! As with anything else, children and teens are a representation of what is seen in our homes and community. Somewhere and somehow, children have become desensitized to the issue of domestic violence. Although deeply disturbing, it should not be surprising given the rate at which these crimes occur. Reports indicate that nearly 1 in 4 women in the United States experience violence by a current or former spouse, or boyfriend at some point in her life. Reportedly, women aged 20 to 24 are at the greatest risk of experiencing nonfatal intimate partner violence. Young women age 20 to 24 also experience the highest rates of rape and sexual assault, followed by those 16 to 19. Moreover, it is reported that each year, over 3 million children witness domestic abuse, and research has shown that many of these children will find themselves in a cycle of abuse in their adult lives as well.
February is recognized as Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention month. As we have observed in the teen reactions in the aftermath of Rihanna’s and Chris, much ground needs to be covered. As stated on the website for the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), “the repercussions of teen dating violence are impossible to ignore - the issue affects not just youth but their families, schools and communities as well. Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month (TDVAM) brings national focus to the issue of teen dating violence, highlights the need to educate our youth about healthy relationships, raises awareness among those who care for them and provides communities with a critical opportunity to work together to prevent this devastating cycle of abuse.“
It is critical that community leaders, parents, teens, and school officials work together to help change the statistics. There are many ways to become involved to help spread awareness about teen violence. Below is a list that of campaigns that NCADV highlights on their website. However, also remember that the best place to start making an impact is in your very own home. Talk to your teen. Look for the signs. Take action!
Gaétane Borders, MA, ABD