Is Rihanna asking to be beaten again?


Rihanna has inadvertently shined the spotlight on a taboo subject. No, not domestic violence; discussions about domestic violence have become commonplace. Rihanna has highlighted the problem that no one wants to talk about, the role of women in sustaining abusive relationships.

The sad secret of domestic violence is that it takes two people to sustain an abusive relationship, the abuser and the woman willing to be abused. Rihanna is now the poster child for these women. Rich, talented and beautiful, Rihanna has no objective reason for returning to Chris Brown, the man who battered her face, an important source of her livelihood. She’s going back because she has the psychological need to be hit again, and Chris Brown is going to oblige her. It is only a matter of time before another picture of a bloody and bruised Rihanna appears in People Magazine.

Next time, it will be Rihanna’s fault as well as Brown’s. Sure, it will be Brown who perpetrates the violence, but it will be Rihanna who deliberately has placed herself in harm’s way. Just like the motorist who hits a pedestrian bears some of the responsibility, the person who darted in front of the car at the last moment is equally to blame.

Harsh? You bet it’s harsh. The problem of domestic violence is a brutal problem with harsh realities at its root. It’s time that we acknowledge a central harsh reality: women who return to abusers do so because of their own psychological need for abuse. Until we are as willing to confront the woman’s role in domestic violence as honestly as we confront the man’s role, it will be difficult to make any progress in this already difficult area.

Rihanna’s case is particularly worth highlighting because it has none of the added motivations that are often involved in returning to an abuser. Many women in abusive relationships have children by the abuser, adding an additional emotional tie. Many women in abusive relationships cannot support themselves without the abuser, and therefore stay rather than live in poverty. Most importantly, many women are deathly afraid of their abuser, having no means to protect themselves if the abuser wishes to wreak vengeance.

None of these factors affect Rihanna. Her relationship with Chris Brown is casual and has not been going on for very long. They are not married, and they have no children. Rihanna is fully capable of supporting herself without Brown, and, more importantly, can afford to hire protection against Brown if that is necessary. So Rihanna is going back for one and only one reason: she wants to go back.

Based on publicly available information, it appears that Brown has a classic motivation for domestic violence. As a child, he witnessed his mother being beaten by his stepfather, and he was powerless to protect. Now, as the abuser, he is the powerful one, reliving the experience as the abuser, not the victim. Without serious effort and significant psychological counseling, it is difficult for such men to restrain themselves from abuse. The chances that this was his last episode of domestic violence are vanishingly small, regardless of what he says, promises or believes about himself.

The motivation for women who deliberately return to abusive relationships often centers on deep-seated insecurity. Simply put, as painful as it is both physically and psychologically, being a victim of domestic violence feels “right” and deserved. Such women do not believe, at the deepest levels of their being, that they have the right to be safe, healthy and cherished. They, too, need significant psychological help to reject the mindset that leads them to blame themselves for “provoking” the violence, and to reject the desire to forgive the abuser or believe his protestations of remorse. No doubt Brown is remorseful, but that does not mean that he won’t hit her again.

Only those close to Rihanna can encourage her to get the help she needs, and perhaps even they cannot get her to appraise her situation more realistically. Whatever happens to Rihanna, however, she has give parents a priceless opportunity to discuss domestic violence with their children, particularly their daughters.

Every girl should be taught, and must accept at the deepest part of her being, the conviction that she deserves to be healthy. No one, absolutely no one, ever has the right to hit her. There is no verbal or behavioral provocation so great that it merits physical punishment of adults, let alone adults in an emotional relationship.

Any girl who is treated abusively, either psychologically or physically, by a boyfriend should run in the opposite direction. He may appear remorseful, but it is important to understand that he will not change until he gets considerably psychological help, and maybe not even then. While it may be worthwhile standing behind a husband who makes a long term, good faith effort to control himself, there is simply no justification for standing by a boyfriend.

Rihanna is sending a message to young girls everywhere, but likely not the one that she thinks she is sending. She may believe that she is demonstrating the power of forgiveness, but, in reality, she is demonstrating the power of self-hatred. Parents should make sure that their daughters understand what Rihanna is doing, and that they should feel sorry for her, not admire her. There is never any justification for allowing a boyfriend to be abusive … never! The sooner our daughters learn that, the better.