Brown case a wake-up call for teens
Attack on Rihanna shows violence can happen at any age
By Greg Toppo
For nearly two weeks after the alleged Feb. 8 assault involving R&B singer Chris Brown and his girlfriend, singer Rihanna, teen fans of the couple searched for ways to minimize the episode or justify what sounded like a caffeinated lovers' quarrel between two very young, very beautiful people.
"A lot of kids were saying, 'I thought maybe he just slapped her. I thought he just pushed her,' " says Patti Giggans, executive director of Peace Over Violence, a sexual and domestic violence prevention center in Los Angeles.
Blogs and discussion boards lit up with fans' speculation that Rihanna actually attacked Brown or provoked him somehow. Then, on Feb. 19, a police crime scene photo emerged — unauthorized, as it turns out, and there still is no confirmation that it actually was Rihanna — of a battered woman, eyes closed, face bruised, bottom lip swollen.
"There is a lot of denial and disbelief still out there," says Giggans, "but we've seen a bit of a shift since the photo."
A 'teachable moment'
If there's any silver lining to the bleak story, counselors and parents say, it's that young people can take lessons from relationship violence playing out so vividly — and so brutally — in people so young: She's 21, he's 19.
"We're using this as a teachable moment for young people," says Giggans. "For everybody, actually."
The case, as ugly as it is, is doing more than any in recent memory, she and others say, to "bust the misconception that it can't happen with kids, with young people."
Research shows that violence shows up in about one in four teen relationships, a figure that hasn't changed much in the past 30 years, says Lenore Walker, a psychology professor at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, and the author of 15 books, most of them about violence against women and children.
"It's not unusual for young people who are dating to be in violent relationships," she says. "We've known that for some time now — we know that attitudes toward violence have not changed among teenagers."
Not seeing a problem
Rick Hanson, director of counseling services at Rockhurst University in Kansas City, Mo., says relationship violence is "unfortunately not surprising" with young adults.
"It is not often something that young adults seek counseling for because either they don't really see it as a problem (or) they don't want to admit that it's a problem, so they'll explain it as situational — 'I did something to make him mad.' "
Typically, Walker says, most battered women endure three to five beatings like the one Rihanna allegedly received before they're "willing to give up" on the relationship.
"They believe that the loving part is the real man, and the violence is just going to go away if they do what he wants or love him enough," Walker says.
"Women are still being socialized to 'stand by your man, take care of your man,' " she says. "Of course you want to be loyal and stand by your man, but not if he's abusive."
Brown released an apologetic statement a week later: "Words cannot begin to express how sorry and saddened I am over what transpired."
That apparently didn't melt the heart of the Los Angeles district attorney, who charged Brown a week ago today with two felonies: assault likely to cause great bodily injury and making criminal threats. He's free for now but faces up to four years in prison if convicted.
It also didn't sway Oprah Winfrey, who discussed the attack on her show. At one point Oprah stared into the camera and said to Rihanna: "Love doesn't hurt. I've been saying this to women for years: Love doesn't hurt. And if a man hits you once, he will hit you again. He will hit you again. I don't care what his plea is."