The “Chrianna” Saga

March 4, 2009

I have really resisted adding to the overcoverage of the Chris Brown and Rihanna domestic violence issue but I can’t hold back anymore.  There is so much about the story that is disturbing- the fact that he beat the crap out of her, the fact that they are back together, the fact that so much of the coverage and discussion has been supportive of him, that fact that very little has been supportive of her, and, worst of all, the fact that so many people have said that she must have been asking for it.

But as someone who has worked on violence against women issues for a long time I feel obligated to explain a bit about why, I would guess, she has agreed to get back together and where that comes from.  

Given the way that domestic violence normally escalates, it is very likely that Chris Brown’s abuse of Rianna had been going on for quite a while.  That is to say, it is very unlikely that everything was all hunky-dory and then one night he just lost it and started wailing on her.  That doesn’t necessarily mean that he had been hitting her, this could have been the first time he did that, but it is very likely that he had been emotionally abusive for a long time- breaking down her self-esteem, making her believe that she was to blame for all their problems, blaming her for all of his problems, controlling who she spends time with, the list goes on and on.  There was also likely a cycle of violence  where things would be fine, then tensions would start to rise, then there would be a blow-out, and after the blow-out he would be wonderful, kind, loving, and then it would start again. This pattern likely led her to think that if she could just keep things could enough, balanced enough, keep him from getting angry, then everything would be ok (which, of course, is not something she could control because it is him, not her, that is to blame). 

What does that mean?  It means that after all this happened, once the dust had settled a bit, she probably felt 1) that she had brought it on herself and 2) that she if she could just be good enough, he would get better.

For those of us who are on the outside looking in, it doesn’t make any sense.  We think, “if my partner did that, I’d be gone for good!”  And that may be true.  But remember, people just don’t beat up their loved ones out of the blue, it is built on an abusive relationship that makes violence possible.  So in her world, in the world he has created in which she is emotionally beaten down and dependent on him, it is very hard for her to see a way out.

So instead of judging her and her decision, I hope we can wish her well.  That we can hope that her friends and loved ones are loving her, supporting her (that doesn’t mean supporting her decision, mind you), and empowering her by creating a space in which she can see for herself that there is another option- to get out.

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