Court documents about Chris Brown’s violence against Rihanna were released last week. I’m going to warn you, this is really hard to read, and potentially triggering if you are an abuse survivor. If you can manage, I think the context is important. Full version here, but here are some pieces of it.
“Brown was driving a vehicle with Robyn F. as the front passenger on an unknown street in Los Angeles. Robyn F. picked up Brown’s cellular phone and observed a three-page text message from a woman who Brown had a previous sexual relationship with.
“…When he could not force her to exit, he took his right hand and shoved her head against he passenger window of the vehicle, causing an approximate one-inch raised circular contusion.
“Robyn F. turned to face Brown and he punched her in the left eye with his right hand. He then drove away in the vehicle and continued to punch her in the face with his right hand while steering the vehicle with his left hand. The assault caused Robyn F.’s mouth to fill with blood and blood to splatter all over her clothing and the interior of the vehicle.
“Brown looked at Robyn F. and stated, ‘I’m going to beat the sh– out of you when we get home! You wait and see!’
… After Robyn F. faked the call, Brown looked at her and stated, ‘You just did the stupidest thing ever! Now I’m really going to kill you!’
…Brown continued to punch Robyn F. on her left arm and hand, causing her to suffer a contusion on her left triceps (sic) that was approximately two inches in diameter and numerous contusions on her left hand.
…“Brown did not know what she did with the key and began punching her in the face and arms. He then placed her in a head lock positioning the front of her throat between his bicep and forearm. Brown began applying pressure to Robyn F.’s left and right carotid arteries, causing her to be unable to breathe and she began to lose consciousness.
Let it be known that there are thousands upon thousands of cases like this. Having worked as an abuse crisis counselor for a few years, I’ve encountered hundreds myself. Rihanna is a celebrity, so this case is widely publicized, but it is a reality that every 9 seconds, a woman is assaulted or beaten in the US.
In the ensuing media shitfest of Chris Brown’s abuse, a lot of truly upsetting things have happened–all of which reflect abuse culture. Abuse culture is characterized by our society’s attitude of victim-blaming, lack of abuser accountability, permissiveness and general apathy to abuse, and resistance to acknowledging/addressing abuse in a realistic way.
(1) The first major wave was of people blaming Rihanna for getting beat up. Y’know, she had that mouth full of blood comin! There were many other forms of dismissing the abuse as well, including making light of it.
(2) The second was the outright violation of Rihanna’s privacy in the whole situation. Media outlets took no time to exploit her abuse photos for profit and traffic. People even sold pictures of her in the hospital! Unfuckingbelievable. While a degree of publicity is to be expected as a celebrity, this sort of response is far from acceptable.
(3) The third was Chris Brown’s failure to give a genuine apology & change his attitude. What was released by Brown was an obvious PR move; no sincere disgust with his actions was ever conveyed. How do we know this? Every time the abuse is brought up, the angry, unapologetic, egotistical shithead within him shines bright. Most recently, when the pictures of the abuse were released, Brown had the nerve to tweet: “The Devil is always busy!! But when u have a destiny, nothing or no one can stop what god has planned!”
Right. Exposing his fuckheadery is “the devil’s work”. There’s nothing more malicious & evil than bringing up his abuse. And right before his new album too! Injustice, I tell you.
(4) Further in the misappropriation of victim/perpetrator, the Grammys had the gall to come out and claim that they were the victim of the abuse. Forget Rihanna’s hospitalization, we were the ones who really had it rough!
(5) Since the two have decided to collaborate musically, Rihanna has been taking a lot of shit. This is a typical response to this common phenomenon of abused women returning to their abuser – “What a dumbass!” “Wow she’s so stupid!” “She’s asking for it!” These responses demonstrate an ignorance to relationship abuse dynamics.
Real talk: It is a reality that women often go back. In fact, on average, a woman will leave an abusive relationship 7 TIMES before getting out for good. Why does this happen? Are these women just that stupid? No, they’re not stupid. They are survivors. Abused women have common sense just like you and I. Abused women are not morons and they are not asking for more abuse, they are responding to their environment. This environment is usually more complicated than a black and white/stay or leave diagnosis. There are a number of reasons women often go back, varying from psychological to economic, from very complex to quite simple. These abuse dynamics have been explored and corroborated by social scientists studying domestic violence (here & here & here). While I will def cover this in much more depth in the future, for now I will point you to my “When Love Gets Violent” video, and you can also find more detail on it here and here.
What abused people like Rihanna don’t benefit from is a bunch of people telling them how awful they are and what they should do. This is disempowering, controlling, degrading, and doesn’t advance their situation one bit. As much as it might seem justified or helpful, it’s not. This only contributes to the pattern of their abuse. These attitudes are abuse culture embodied – nothing short of victim-blaming, cycle-of-violence perpetuating nastiness, no matter how well intentioned it might feel. Instead, abuse victims need resources, education and they need to hear that they’re worth more. Abuse survivors are individuals who have been robbed of their power, and it’s our job as a society to give power back to them. Abuse advocates work to empower survivors to make the decisions that are best for them when they are ready to make them, and to provide them with the support that they need throughout this challenging (but effective!) process. Conversation around the dynamics that keep women coming back needs to flow freely and there should never, ever be any talk of her “deserving it” when the abuser gets violent again. There’s not a single excuse for their abuse. Not even being around someone they have abused before.
(6) You’ve probably seen these tweets making their rounds on the internet.
It is truly sad to see young women worshipping abusers. It makes me feel like all of our voices trying to end abuse have barely made a dent against the violence accepted in our culture. It’s abuse culture that makes it seem as if Brown’s behavior is OK, like this behavior isn’t something that should send a chill through every man, woman, and child’s bones when they hear about it.
The sentiments expressed in these tweets are one example of how abuse culture permeates every layer of society, infecting everyone with its poison, setting our youth up for unhealthy relationships, continuing its never-ending cycle of violence.
I want to tell these young women that I’m sorry we live in a culture that tells them this is what love looks like. I’m sorry that we rarely have an honest conversation about abuse, that so many people remain ignorant, that the cycle seems to never end. I want to tell them that they deserve better. I want to tell them that violence is not a form of love or affection, and that Chris Brown’s actions were not some form of kinky, consensual BDSM. I want to tell them that love will never, ever put you in a hospital.
I want to tell these young women, survivors of abuse, their children, and Rihanna: I’m sorry that we, as a society, have failed you.