“I want Chris Brown to beat me up!!” – The Horrors of Abuse Culture

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.

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Who Gets Violent?

For a long time it was thought that violence is a result of low self esteem.

However, the research of Baumeister, Bushman, and Campbell offers another account. People who are violent typically have a high self esteem (that is not to say that having a high self esteem means you are violent). So, who of those with high self esteem gets violent?

Remember the tale of Narcissus? Narcissus, a Greek character, was a beautiful hunter who fell in love with his reflection in the stream. Fixated upon his image and unable to leave it, Narcissus died.

Let’s relate this back to violence. Currently, studies are showing that violence results from someone undermining a narcissist’s view of him/herself. The idea is that narcissists think so highly of themselves that the violence is way to restore that view in the face of an ego threat.

Now let’s relate this to relationships. For example, I challenge my partner’s view of himself as masculine and strong, so he punches me to prove that I am wrong, thus restoring his self image. We know that violence in relationships is extremely common. Physical violence in relationships more commonly affects women — indeed it is the leading cause of injury to women ages 15-44 in the United States. Conversely, when it comes to male populations, various forms of psychological abuse appear more prevalent. But take note, both types of abuse affect both populations.

This research suggests that the personality profile of abusers may include a high degree of narcissism. What then, does domestic violence have in common with gang violence or war?

An interdisciplinary literature review (Baumeister, Smart, and Boden, 1996) found that favorable self-regard is linked to violence in one sphere after another. Murderers, rapists, wife beaters, violent youth gangs, aggressive nations, and other categories of violent people are all marked by strongly held views of their own superiority. When large groups of people differ in self-esteem, the group with the higher self esteem is generally the more violent one.
-American Psychological Society: Does Violence Result From Low Self-Esteem or From Threatened Egotism?

I’ve been mulling over these ideas for the past couple of weeks. Please keep in mind that this is not a comprehensive picture of violence. For further inquiry on self-esteem and violence, check out the plethora of Baumeister’s research, the original article, or the readings below. I hope it gave you something to think about as it did for me. Thoughts? I’ll be reading.


Further Reading:
-Evil: Inside human violence and cruelty, Baumeister
-Stability and level of self-esteem as predictors of anger arousal and hostility, Grannemann
-Hate Crimes, Levin & McDevitt
-The roots of evil, Staub

What will you tell your son?

I suggest you watch this short clip before proceeding:


“She won’t be the only one,
she’s not asking
what you’re going to tell your daughter
she’s asking
what you’re going to teach your son.”

There’s no dispute that domestic violence has now reached epidemic proportions in the world. Here in the US of A, 1 in 4 women are abused by their partner in their lifetime. Our mothers, daughters, sisters, aunts, grandmothers, and friends; we all know a victim.

So when does the violence end?
The past year I’ve worked as a domestic abuse crisis counselor with heavy academic and activist involvement in the anti-violence movement here in San Francisco. I can tell you, from the inside, that the violence has become so massive, so monstrous, that all of the–albeit EXTREMELY limited–resources go toward helping the people who have already been abused. Survivor outreach is important and necessary in a society where “domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women between the ages of 15 and 44, more common than automobile accidents, muggings, and cancer deaths combined” (Surgeon General’s Office). Obviously, we cannot cut off the help for victims.

But what are we doing to PREVENT it? Will this cyclic abuse continue forever? Reality is, the numbers are growing, not diminishing.

To prevent male on female abuse (by far the most common type of abuse, but definitely not the only type of abuse), we must begin combating against the idea that being masculine means being violent. Just as Gibson indicates, it is my belief that we must be talking to young people, especially young men, about healthy relationships, anger management, and nonviolent communication. I argue that we should start these discussions during childhood. We learn the most during our childhood, and the messages that we get are reflected in our behaviors for the rest of our lives. Personally, I have used schoolyard violence in my little brother’s life to talk to him about violence and the treatment of people–and more specifically, the treatment of women. I’ve found that having open, gentle lines of communication with each other as well as giving him specific things to say/do when he’s in difficult situations has helped tremendously to nurture his compassion and empathy.

If it were up to me, violence, just like sexuality, would be a talking point in every home and school across the nation starting around age 3 or 4, executed in a thoughtful and age appropriate fashion. The conversations would revolve around (1) acknowledging what’s going on around us, (2) how to deal with anger and stress, and (3) fostering excellent communication skills. We often start this conversation young (i.e. “No hitting, Tommy!”), but don’t continue it (i.e. “Let’s talk about other ways to deal with being angry, son.”)

I plan to delve into the execution of these 3 violence prevention objectives in the future. For now, the question remains: what will you tell your son?

For further information, see my video “When Love Gets Violent. You can also visit my “sex+ toolbox” where you will find 10 tips for men to prevent gender violence and a nonviolent communication guide among other (lesser related) tools.

*Wow. To all the men freaking out about male victims, this is an article about VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN as should be very clear from the beginning. Why can’t I just FOR ONCE talk about violence against women without every man freaking out and feeling personally victimized? Does it always have to be about you? Do you not see the irony in that? Like a caucus on racism and insisting on talking only about racism against white people. Yes, we know that it exists; yes, it should be dealt with–but HELLO? That doesn’t change the fact that racism is a systematic problem that affects mostly people of color. Despite however defensive talking about gender issues might make you feel, this isn’t an attack on men, and any rational human can see that. That’s right: NOT ALL MEN ARE VIOLATORS and NOT ALL WOMEN ARE INNOCENT and I NEVER said they were. I’m here to talk about a major problem that presently and historically has had a gargantuan impact on my world. If you have a problem with that, this isn’t the blog for you. THANKS.