Will Young Women Heed Rihanna's Lesson?

As we prepare to watch The Grammy's air this weekend, I'm reminded that it was one year ago that a generation of women learned that domestic violence can happen to anyone.
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As we prepare to watch The Grammy's air this weekend, I'm reminded that it was one year ago that a generation of women learned that domestic violence can happen to anyone.

On February 8, 2009, following a pre-Grammy party, the hip-hop entertainer, Chris Brown assaulted his pop star girlfriend, Robyn "Rihanna" Fenty. While there had been such high profile DV charges in the past, too often the women had been perceived as unsympathetic or unsurprising victims:

  • Robin Givans 1988 revelation to Barbara Walters that the actress' boxer /husband Mike Tyson terrorized her, garnered sympathy for him and the label of "bitch" for her.

  • When in January 1989, Madonna filed and then withdrew an assault complaint against her then husband, Sean Penn, the public hardly raised a brow. It was as though Madonna's boisterous and erotic persona justified her abuse.
  • When we learned during OJ Simpson's murder trial that he had beaten his then wife Nicole Brown Simpson, she was seen by some as a woman of no means trapped under a domineering and wealthy man.
  • Robyn "Rihanna" Fenty was different. Sweet, wealthy, beautiful and protected, surely she should've been insolated from a man's violence, but she wasn't. She even took him back briefly.

    I expressed my concern over this decision and her attitude regarding Brown's restraining order in an essay for NPR's All Things Considered, in which I implored: Stay Away From Your Man, Rihanna!

    To hear that Rihanna has called Brown's stay-away order "unnecessary" and asked for it to be removed, to see her out in public with Brown again after the beating has me rankled ... with Brown, sure, but mostly with Rihanna.

    I'm angry at Rihanna. I know -- she's 21 and a victim. Unlike most victims of domestic violence, she's also wealthy, famous and admired. She should use her power and experience to influence her generation.

    Rihanna got the message and in an ABC interview with Diane Sawyer said she realized this was not the message to send to young women:

    "When I realized that my selfish decision for love could result - into some young girl getting killed, I could not, I could not be easy with that part. I couldn't be held responsible for telling them, go back."

    According to the National Organization for Women, "Young women, low-income women and some minorities are disproportionately victims of domestic violence and rape. Women ages 20-24 are at the greatest risk of nonfatal domestic violence, and women age 24 and under suffer from the highest rates of rape."

    In June, Brown pleaded guilty to assault and began serving a five-year probation sentence, which includes domestic violence counseling. Rihanna has a new album and man on her arm.

    In the December 2009 issue of OK Magazine, she reveals a new tattoo that reflects her feelings about this past year. It reads, "Never a failure, always a lesson," but it's written backwards so that she can see it in the mirror. Hopefully, young women will learn to recognize the signs and escape an abusive relationship before it escalates to physical violence.

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