We should never condone violence or sit idly by as a young woman walks back into an abusive situation. Back in 2009, however, I saw this incident clearly as an opportunity to honestly and openly discuss the need for girls AND guys to learn more about healthy relationships. Co-dependence, exposure to and acceptance of violence, verbal abuse, control, and manipulation are all a part of the vicious cycle of abuse and ALL of these issues should be a part of our public and professional discourse regarding dating and domestic abuse.
This sad event in pop culture is definitely a teachable moment for dating violence prevention and provides a very clear lesson for young people in abusive relationships. But, to relegate this situation to a mere game of gender wars or an excuse to single one entertainer out is really setting up our young people for danger and only making this situation worse. Calling Rihanna names and treating her like an outcast only pushes her closer to Chris. Calling Chris a “thug” and screaming at him via social media as if you know him does not make him listen or force him to truly grow up and stop making the same mistakes – it only adds to the confusion and the noise. The reality is that our young people are watching adults get sucked into a media-driven spectacle, while, for many of them, their real-life experiences with violence on all levels is all consuming. Instead of watching me be hateful toward two entertainers that I don’t know, I want my son, my nieces and nephews, and other mentees, to see me being thoughtful, deliberate, and careful in how I discuss healthy behavior in relationships. When the media flashes images of Rihanna and Chris, this is our opportunity to teach and model for impressionable young people – not to rant.
None of us have all of the answers, and I could not promise that my reactions would be calm or thoughtful if any of the young people in my family were ever a victim of dating violence. But one thing is for sure in this situation – throwing stuff at Rihanna and publicly scolding her for taking Chris back is NOT helpful. It’s just blaming the victim. According to the same Huffington Post report, “the 24-year-old singer was attacked outside of the Box nightclub in London Monday morning, when a heckler threw an energy drink bottle at the star.” We can be angry, confused, and aggravated about her decision. Her close friends and family can continue to warn her and express their concern. BUT, especially for those of us who are just onlookers, does it make sense to verbally or even physically (as in this case) assault these entertainers in order to protest the violent act by Chris?
February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month.