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Chris Brown And Rihanna: Domestic Violence Rampant Among Teens

Hip-Hop Media Training

Daily tabloid reports about Chris Brown and Rihanna'stumultuous relationship, the back story, the domestic dispute that promptedChris to turn himself in to Los Angeles police and talk of reconciliation havedominated the news since the February 8 incident.

But today Oprah takes on the topic in a one hour special onteen dating that will include interviews with youth as well as fellowtelevision host Tyra Banks, who will reveal why she is moved by the topic.

On last Friday's broadcast of Oprah the media mogul made itclear that she did not think Rihanna should continue dating Chris. "If a manhits you once, he will hit you again," she said in an emotional plea to thecamera, the day after Chris received two felony charges for his alleged attackon Rihanna.

The controversy has prompted a wide range of reactions.

The day after Chris turned himself into Los Angeles authorities for questioning andwas released on $50,000 bail, he was dropped from his endorsement deal with Wm.Wrigley Jr. Company, the manufacturer of Doublemint Gum.

Wednesday, he withdrew his nomination from Nickelodeon'sKids' Choice Awards.

Industry insiders have been divided.

But many of Chris' adoring female fans have continued toshow him unwavering, rather alarming, support. Support that even withstood the shockof the leaked LAPD photo of Rihanna, bloodied and bruised, that surfaced weekslater.

In particular, I was troubled by the messages from girls Iread on Rihanna's MySpace page the day the news broke that she was allegedlybeaten by Chris.

I went to Rihanna's page thinking I was going to find wordsof encouragement and support from her fans. But it was the opposite.

One girl accused the Barbados-bred singer of bringing theattack on herself. The girl cited a rumor that claimed that Rihanna had given ChrisBrown a sexually transmitted disease as justification of Chris' alleged attack.

Another told Rihanna not to worry because she was sure thatthe popular female singer would be able to sort out her differences with the19-year-old heartthrob.

A different MySpace friend commented that whatever hadhappened between Rihanna and Chris was their private business.

That night, I did not read one post from a woman outragedthat Rihanna had been victimized.

This reaction from girls made me wonder why many appeared tobe desensitized to domestic violence.

If girls are quick to dismiss this incident as warrantedwhen provoked then this problem is bigger than the issue facing the pop starsat the center of the latest tabloid controversy.

Is this how young girls generally respond to domesticviolence in their own lives or are these particular girls just so infatuated byChris' celebrity that they would be more inclined to tolerate such behavior?

I had my own opinions, but considering all the attentionthis news story was getting, I wanted to talk to actual professionals who workwith teens involved in domestic disputes to see if this reaction is consistentwith what they experience.

Domestic violence is quite rampant among teens. Fortypercent of teenage girls aged 14 to 17 say they have been abused or knowsomeone their age that has been hit or beaten by a boyfriend, according to thearticle When Love Hurts: Teen Dating Violence published in a newsletter by theJenesse Center, Inc. The Los Angelesbased women's shelter wrote the story in response to the Chris Brown andRihanna altercation.

I spoke two teen girls that I know personally and eachhas a close girlfriend who has complained about being physically and mentallyabused by their current boyfriends.

Angela Swan, an attorney who specializes in juveniledependency cases in Los Angeles County, says that it iscommon for young women to downplay the male perpetrator's role in inciting theattack. "I see it all the time, the woman taking on the blame," says Swan."They will say, 'I set him off,' 'He didn't push me that hard,' or 'The kidswere in the other room.' They kind of minimize what is going on."

A supervising nurse in Southern California, who spoke with me on the condition of anonymity, saysthat when perpetrators actually bring their victims to the hospital, they oftenjustify their assault. "That's what I see in the hospital when females comein," says the nurse of 22-years. "When the guys come in with them, they willsay, 'She did this to me.'" Regardless of the explanation, the hospital isrequired to call the police. "We always call the police and it will end up thatthe female does not want to press charges."

Sometimes when police respond to a 911 call, the femalevictim says that the perpetrator has apologized and she has forgiven him, butthe authorities still have to intervene. Erick, a Los Angeles Police Departmentofficer, who asked that his last name not be used for this article, attributesthe female victim's reluctance to press charges to a "cycle of violence."

"We can't force anyone to talk to us," says Erick, "but wetry to reason with them. If it is a first offense we suggest counseling. Sometimesit's anger management. The perpetrator could also be forced to go by thecourt."

Low self esteem is a core issue plaguing young girls, saysLeslye Johnson, a group home administrator in California'sRiverside County. "Young girls just don't valuethemselves so they feel like that kind of behavior is acceptable," Johnson says."If they are with someone who has money, putting up with what they do to them,from the girl's perspective, is okay." This is especially the case if theperson is famous like Chris Brown.

Arlene Hackel, a Riverside, California children's services socialworker, says that the way society views women contributes to young girls' low selfesteem. "Society in general has come to view the female with disrespect anddisregard," she says. "It is acceptable for young women to not have selfrespect and to allow abuse."

But it is not just the victims of domestic violence or thosewho have witnessed it who accept it. Some argue that popular culture is fuelingthe message that men, especially those with wealth and status, are moreimportant than women.

Tarana Burke sees this first hand as the executive directorof Just Be Inc., a Philadelphia-based program that aides young women of colorin developing a strong sense of self worth.

"So now we have little baby girls who think that Rihanna, astalented and beautiful and successful as she is, should somehow be grateful foror is indebted in some way to Chris Brown for choosing her," says Burke.

"We accept this behavior from men in our communities and ourfamilies and we let our little girls see it and develop their own understandingof what it is to be a girlfriend or wife," Burke adds. "These remarks and thesentiment attached to them are the consequences."

Bassey Ikpi was shocked that the preteen girls in her Washington, D.C.poetry class were quick to condemn Rihanna after her attack.

A 12-year-old girl told Ikpi that Chris hadn't done anythingwrong and should not go to jail. "He should get community service," the childsaid. But even worse, she admitted that if she had been beaten by Chris thatshe would not have reported it to the police.

"He won't do it again because then he'd be with me and Iwouldn't say anything to make him mad," the girl told Ikpi. "I'd just be happyhe was with me and let him know it. Rihanna should have just been happy to bewith him instead of making him mad enough to hit her. Now his life is allmessed up. That's not fair."

Those in abusive relationships or accepting of them don'talways have the best reference points for identifying healthy courtships.

In press interviews, years prior to this incident, bothChris and Rihanna spoke openly about growing up in homes where domesticviolence and or drug abuse prevailed.

"Youth need help identifying when they are in an unhealthysituation," notes the Jenesse Center newsletter. "Oftentimes, young people do not recognize abuse when it is happening."

Recent reports that Chris and Rihanna have reconciled arerumored to be married and even recording an apology song sparked a publicoutcry. When Chris released a statement the week following the incident, hementioned being "saddened" by what had transpired and that he was seeking thecounseling of his pastor and mother. However, it is unlikely that he could havereceived adequate therapy in the few weeks that have passed.

When representing a victim or perpetrator in court Swan hasseen judges order perpetrators to take a 52-week battered course.

There is a strong need for education and dialogue aboutdomestic abuse. Karen Earl, executive director for the Jenesse Center,thinks everyone should get involved in the discussion.

"I think we need to have simple communication that it is notokay," says Earl. "Nobody should hit you and you don't hit anybody." The Jenesse Center spearheads a number of activitiesto build self esteem.

"When you feel good about yourself you are less likely to bemean to somebody or to accept cruel treatment," Earl adds. "It is a known issuethat if not taken care of when they are kids, they grow up with low selfesteem. To really get to the genesis of this issue, if it is not taken care ofnow we are failing our children. And I mean to be that dramatic. I want to bedramatic."

For resources on domestic violence among teens see thespecial feature on Oprah.com. You can also call the National Teen Dating AbuseHelpline at (866) 331-9474 or the National Domestic Violence Hotline at (800)799-SAFE. Additionally, call the info line 211 for resources in your area.

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