This editorial will appear in Monday’s print edition
Are they or aren’t they?
On the entertainment shows and blogosphere, the speculation is rampant that pop diva Rihanna is back with the man who badly beat her three years ago, rapper Chris Brown.
Many have reacted with outrage to even the thought that the young victim of domestic violence has reconciled with her abuser (so far the official word is that the two are just friends and musical collaborators). Others, sadly, have made comments online such as, “He can beat me up anytime” – a reflection of how many young women equate a partner’s abuse with love.
In the weeks after the 2009 felony assault incident – for which Brown served no jail time – Rihanna seemed strong and defiant. She warned other women not to be blinded by love for their abuser. If she has, indeed, taken Brown back, it is a choice all too many victims of abuse make, experts say.
Although about half of women who are assaulted by a partner make a clean break, the other half are drawn back into the abusive relationship again and again – an average of seven times.
Young women are especially vulnerable; those 16 to 24 years old are in the fastest growing demographic for domestic violence. Many victims who eventually die at their partner’s hand began their relationship during those years. And the U.S. Department of Justice cites research showing that in the course of a year, nearly one in 10 high school students is hit, slapped or physically injured by a boyfriend or girlfriend.
For experts in the field of domestic violence, the Rihanna controversy is a timely one: February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month. This is a good opportunity to talk with young people about relationships: what constitutes healthy ones and what behaviors should be red flags. Resources are out there for parents and others who want to have those conversations (see box below).
Concerned adults need to send the message that abusive behavior may seem acceptable in music videos and TV reality shows, but it’s not in real life. Not for pop stars, and not for regular folks either.
A good online resource for parents and young people is the Love is Respect project at blog.loveisrespect.org. For emergency help, contact the YWCA Pierce County at firstname.lastname@example.org or call the 24-hour hotline at 253-383-2593.