Over the course of their lifetimes, one in four women in the United States will experience domestic violence.
This statistic has been repeated time and time again since middle school as girls and boys learn about healthy relationships versus abusive ones, with a focus on what to do to avoid becoming a part of this statistic.
While we are taught that domestic violence and physical/verbal abuse is completely unacceptable and wrong, society seems to be sending a very different message with the reaction to Chris Brown’s assault of Rihanna in 2009. At just 19 years old, Brown had severely beaten 21-year-old Rihanna to the point where she was barely recognizable in the picture released in the press. He was sentenced to five years probation, six months community service, and one year of domestic violence counseling – a sentence many domestic violence organizations are saying was way too lenient given the severity of the crime.
While Brown released a tape apologizing to his fans and Rihanna for his inexcusable behavior, his actions spoke louder than his words. In an interview on Good Morning America in 2011, when Robin Roberts asked Brown about Rihanna and his restraining order, he reportedly threw a chair out his dressing room window and later tweeted “I’m so over people bringing this past shit up!! Yet we praise Charlie Sheen and other celebs for there bullshit”. Brown created yet another controversy when in September 2012 he revealed a new neck tattoo that looked like a battered woman, though he claims it’s a “design derived from a Day of the Dead sugar skull”.
Brown’s violent outbursts go beyond his assault on Rihanna: In June 2012 he got in a fight with Drake, a rapper, at a nightclub. It resulted in eight people being injured, one man having to get surgery to remove glass from his eye, and one tourist receiving sixteen stitches on her head. This January, he got in a brawl with Frank Ocean, another musician, in a parking lot. Ocean claims that Brown threatened to shoot him, while someone in his group made a homophobic slur.
Chris Brown is clearly not a good role model for society, and yet he still remains extremely popular. While his performances and radio plays were temporarily halted in 2009 after assaulting Rihanna, the release of his album F.A.M.E in 2011 broke records and became his first number-one album in the United States. I personally refuse to listen to Chris Brown and actively switch radio stations whenever his songs come on, but I know many people who still like his music. When I ask people why they still listen to him, most say it’s because he’s talented and his songs are really catchy.
Even if this is true, does it justify his continued fame? If Chris Brown were a successful businessman, effective politician, or even a neighbor you liked, would you ignore his actions because he’s good at what he does? My guess is no. While it may sometimes be a good thing that we tend to be more lenient of celebrities’ actions, in this instance Chris Brown’s popularity is sending a horrible message to society. What his top-selling albums and continued radio plays are telling us is that his temper is acceptable as long as his songs remain catchy.
Now that Rihanna and Chris Brown are back together and possibly engaged, I’ve both thought and heard things like “What is Rihanna thinking” and “it’s her fault that they’re back together”. By having this mindset, we ‘re placing blame on the victim, rather than the person that made her a victim.
While we may be teaching our students that domestic violence is wrong, the continued popularity of Chris Brown is sending the opposite message. Until people start to recognize that talent doesn’t override abuse, reducing the cycle of violence will be extremely difficult.