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There ARE Clear Boundaries
by Edna Nelson
2009-02-21 08:17:43
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Rihanna and Chris Brown's dating violence scandal is not only about how two young people cope with a relationship stained by violence, but also about how society itself becomes a container for this violence and how we react to it. Headlines about what Rihanna might have done to provoke Chris Brown and statements saying that if Rihanna goes back to Brown she is an idiot, only aggravate the situation and dually victimize Rihanna.

First she has been assaulted by her boyfriend and now she is being assaulted by the public. Headlines that insinuate that she might have provoked the attack imply that she somehow deserved, or could deserve a violent response, which is ridiculous. Calling Rihanna an idiot puts her more at risk to stick in this abusive situation rather than getting out of it, and implies that she deserves whatever abuse might follow if she chooses to go back. These responses are destructive not only to the couple, but to everyone who witnesses the unfolding events of this all too common story. Instead of empowering these youths to make better choices the media is creating a situation where they are both being isolated and shamed.

People don't know much about the way Rihanna and Chris Brown interacted with each other before the violence in their relationship got to the point of needing police intervention. But what is known by the public is that on February 8th before the Grammy's the young couple got in a fight which resulted in Chris Brown fleeing and Rihanna being picked up by the police. It was an incident of domestic violence that prevented both stars from performing that night. A lot of talk about why Chris Brown might have resorted to violence, and almost no talk about how Rihanna could have found herself in the position to be victimized by such behavior, other than of course implying that she provoked her abuser that night. Although Rihanna should not be accused of facilitating her abuse it is important to understand fact that relationship violence doesn't come out of nowhere. The only way to understand the situation is by mapping the event to its origins, the first time Chris showed aggression towards Rihanna and how she responded to it. Instead of the asking what Rihanna might have done to provoke the situation, there should be an understanding that there were probably warning signs that Rihanna and her friends might have heeded. Without calling Rihanna stupid it could be shown that people can practice awareness in order to protect themselves from relationship violence.

Falsely depicted as if it comes in random outbursts, relationship violence is usually a part of a larger pattern of abuse. It is not as if someone gets overwhelmed by a situation and bursts out violently, but rather that the relationship has been well primed for violence. If there is a feeling in relationship that violence of any sort (emotional, psychological, etc.) physical violence is likely to be seen as a viable outlet for energy and frustration. When emotional violence starts without real consequence it can escalate and lead to physical violence, and by that time usually the victims though shocked are emotionally resistant to the idea of ending the relationship.

When one is in an abusive relationship it is essential to face that someone they love has been planning to physically assault them and plans to continue expressing themselves in this violent way. To imagine that abusive spouses simply lose control when they engage in physical or verbal abuse disables their victim's ability to defend themselves, both spouses then become unable to hold each other accountable which is needed to maintain healthy relationships. Anyone who has had experience with domestic violence (whether as the perpetrator or the victim) understands that it more often than not has signs of abuse that predate the initial violent event itself. In other words, usually before one partner hits another there are warning signs, a tendency towards control, threats, emotional abuse ranging from insults to regularly under minding the other, and then when the person is primed the abuser strikes, and the first time is never the last.

From what it looks like Rihanna is insistent on going back to Chris Brown, and it doesn't help that the media keeps reminding them and the rest of the world of what a great couple they were. In some cases for people who crave social approval being a well respected couple is enough to keep a dysfunctional relationship going, Stars definitely fit into that category. The truth of the matter is that Chris Brown and Rihanna will never be the couple they were before and the media should accept that. The relationship is over, violence has ended whatever it was or could have been. Relationship violence marks if not an end, the beginning of an end, if not the end of the relationship, the end of someone's life.

A big question in this situation is why did Chris Brown resort to violence? One reason could be that at a young age Chris Brown's mother was in an abusive relationship. Statistics show that children who witness abuse in their homes go on to become members of dysfunctional abusive relationships themselves. Chris Brown may say he is sorry now, but what abuser wouldn't? Ask anyone in any domestic violence safe house and see if they don't all have stories of apologies and flowers, vacations, and good times when the abusers were guilty and apologetic that didn't actually change anything, much less prevent the next event of abuse, or even resolve the pattern of abuse the relationship is based on. While being sorry that one has struck their partner is one thing, recognizing the event as part of a faulty coping mechanism or style of relating is another. Although being on the dealing end of abuse is never something to embrace Chris Brown should not be condemned.

Some now ex-fans state that they wouldn't by Chris Browns records, and the question posed by statements like this is "How far does this type of judgment go? And who does it benefit?" Not buying Chris Browns records might show an opposition to domestic violence, but we have to remember that badly behaving celebrities are not the source of social problems, rather representatives of it. If the same people who boycotted Chris Brown took a step further and began a real discussion about how to stop domestic violence we would get somewhere. The discussion needs to get beyond Chris Brown and into what makes people abusive in the first place. Where does the practice of dominance come from? On an individual level of course abusive personalities should be avoided, and through maintaining healthy social boundaries and expecting accountability we can be protected against them. But on a larger level domestic violence is a global issue that needs our attention until it becomes a thing of the past.

The level of confusion around how to deal with domestic violence and abusive personalities is shown during an MTV special about the situation when the audience was asked if there was anything that would merit continuing an abusive relationship: one audience member stated that it could be possible if the abusive partner admitted there was a problem and began therapy and an anger management program, this is a dangerous idea because the abusers are not the only people with problems in abusive relationships, the abused also have some issues that need to be resolved and should seek counseling as well. From the other-side of the audience a confident sounding young woman responded with the real message about abuse that should have been on everyone's lips, a clear and concise description of what abuse is really about, she said: “... if somebody put their hands on me, I don't need to be with you, you tryin'a hurt me, if you saying bad things to put me down, I don't need'a be with you. That's just the end of that. If you need counseling you could take counseling by yourself. Like, I'm not gonna be with you, you help yourself, I'm gonna help My-self by not being with you.”

Instead of publishing unflattering pictures of Rihanna with a busted lip everywhere, talking about how she might have provoked her attack and saying she is an idiot for perhaps going back to her abusive boyfriend, we should be focusing on self-confidence building. NO ONE deserves to fear or be the victim of their partner. Regardless of the situation, the actions the words or anything of the provocative sort the message should be that relationship based violence is simply intolerable. There is this idea that if people really love each other they can overcome anything, but abuse is not about love, and when relationships are rekindled after certain lines have been crossed the chance is given not to the relationship but to the violence within it.

The media's coverage of this issue has been disappointing if not disgusting, but then again how can anyone expect the same industry that takes zoom shots of peoples flaws with degrading headlines say ”it's okay for us to degrade you, but don't let him!” It's just like parents in abusive relationships their children are witness to or victims of telling their children never to lay their hands on or fall victim to anyone else. This destructive state of hypocrisy puts an even stronger light on the fact that we can't let the media or Hollywood dictate our social values. If anything good can come out of this it could be the message that anyone can be the victim of abuse, no matter how skinny, pretty, or famous you are, no matter how good a dancer or singer you are you still have to defend your sense of self worth, because at the end of the day, it's the only thing that matters.

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Emanuel Paparella2009-02-21 18:04:53
Indeed, that peeping whole on the cover says it all. As long as there are voyeurs there will be celebrities, paparazzi and tabloids ready and willing to titillate our idle curiosity. On the other hand, the celebrities should stop the whining for they cannot have the cake and eat it too: they cannot have their celebrity and their privacy at the same time, for they seem to be mutually exclusive, or at the very least they have been made such by a journalism that has reduced news to nothing else but caricatures and superficial trivia.

Emanuel Paparella2009-02-21 18:09:41
Errata: hole.

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