Here’s a conversation starter: Nearly half of the 200 Boston teenagers interviewed for an informal poll said pop star Rihanna was responsible for the beating she allegedly took at the hands of her boyfriend, fellow music star Chris Brown, in February.
The Brown-Rihanna incident has created much controversy, mostly because of Rihanna’s reported continuance of her relationship with Brown after alleged past assaults. The case has been pointed to by advocate groups for domestic violence victims as an example of the challenges victims face in confronting domestic violence.
Health counselors are specifically concerned with teenagers’ views of the controversy. Of the teens questioned, more than half said both Brown, 19, and Rihanna, 21, were equally responsible for the assault. More than half said the media were treating Brown unfairly, and 46 percent said Rihanna was responsible for the incident.
Emphasis mine, to highlight a serious problem in the discussions about Chris Brown and Rihanna: Again, we’re focusing on the victim’s behavior rather than on the perpetrator’s. That isn’t how you teach kids that violence is wrong; it’s not how you create social norms that combat abuse. When the media narrative is all about what Rihanna did (if she had an STD, if she got jealous of Chris talking to an old girlfriend), and when the focus is on her behavior afterward (why did she go back to him?), it removes Chris’s decisions from the process. It’s the same story with sexual assault: When the focus is on what a woman wore or where she went or how she otherwise put herself in danger by engaging in totally normal social activities, it takes the responsibility off of the assailant.
This should be more than a conversation-starter, and this incident should be more than just a “teachable moment.” And while it should horrify us that so many people believe Rihanna is responsible for being beaten, it shouldn’t surprise us.
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