I confess I couldn’t name a single song by mega-stars Rihanna and Chris Brown, but sadly do recognize the signs of domestic abuse.
Chris Brown is 19; Rihanna just 20. He’s just been arrested for allegedly beating the c**p out of her.
Teen domestic abuse is a growing, but unfortunately under-reported crime. Consider:
* One in three high school students have been or will be involved in an abusive relationship
* Forty percent of teenage girls between 14 and 17 say they know someone their age who has been hit or beaten by a boyfriend
* Women ages 16 to 24 experience the highest per capita rates of intimate violence–nearly 20 per 1000 women.
Dating violence crosses all racial, social, economic, and educational lines. As Rihanna can attest, being professionally successful, even at a young age, doesn’t protect you. While domestic abuse is never acceptable, we face a special challenge in making sure that young women understand that abuse, physical and emotional, is never part of a loving relationship. We need to educate them to recognize and reject men who misuse or manipulate them.
Why are teens especially at risk for dating violence? According to the Alabama Coalition against Dating Violence (www.acadv.org), it is because adolescents often are inexperienced with dating relationships, are pressured by peers to act violently, want independence from parents, and have “romantic” views of love. Young men may believe that masculinity means aggressiveness. Young girls may think violence is normal because they see many of their friends are being abused.
What is especially sad, but again unsurprising about the domestic violence incident between two teen idols, is that Chris Brown has talked openly about how his childhood was marred by the violence of his stepfather. In an interview with GIANT magazine, he confessed that his stepfather “used to hit my mom … He made me terrified all the time, I remember one night he made her nose bleed. I was crying and thinking, ‘I’m just gonna go crazy on him one day,’ I hate him to this day.”
I make no excuses for the abuser – except to say how very sad that he has yet to escape the vicious cycle of violence that he loathes. Research confirms that victims of childhood abuse often become abusers themselves. It’s hard to change early-learned patterns of behavior. But not impossible.
I don’t know what will happen to Chris Brown. He’s hired a big Hollywood lawyer and I suspect that a plea bargain is in the works. The legal case against him is the least of his problems. Will he seize this opportunity to change – or simply hope that the next time the cops aren’t called? Will Rihanna forgive and reconcile – or perhaps forgive but move on, determined to find a man worthy of her?
If you or someone you know, old or young, is the victim of dating violence, step up and speak out. Go to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, www.ndvh.org, 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) for help.