Perhaps it’s time to retire the term “domestic violence.” It seems that some folks still believe it’s somehow different than regular, ordinary old violence.
Imagine for a moment that two men — strangers — get into an argument in a bar. One goes berserk and beats the crap out of the other with a pool cue, sending him to the hospital. Then, months later, when the bruises and lacerations have healed, the victim gives a press interview, talking about his experience of that night. What would we say to the perpetrator of the beating if he said, “What happened should remain private”?
The thought of an attacker making that kind of demand is patently ridiculous, and the public would likely respond with rolled eyes and mocking laughter — unless the attacker was a woman’s husband or boyfriend.
In February 2009, Chris Brown bit and punched his then-girlfriend Rihanna, sending her to the hospital. In the days that followed, photographs of her battered face ran in newspapers and magazines around the world. Understandably, Rihanna dropped out of sight, while Brown found himself grappling with the justice system — and a desperately needed period of soul-searching.
Now, Rihanna has come forward and is sharing what happened that night, telling her very personal story in front of the entire nation. Although many believe the fact that she’s speaking out will have a positive impact on other young women who might find themselves in abusive relationships, Brown isn’t happy about it.
“While I respect Rihanna’s right to discuss the specific events of Feb. 8, I maintain my position that all of the details should remain a private matter between us,” he said. “I do appreciate her support and wish her the best.”
Spoken like a true abuser.
There was a time when “domestic violence” was a private matter, when even the police were reluctant to get between “man and wife” if hubby decided that burning dinner merited a few blows of his fist. Though always frowned upon, spousal violence has traditionally been left in the shadows.
That began to change in the 1970s.
Today’s laws — though far from perfect — attempt to ensure that battered partners and spouses receive the justice and protection to which they are entitled. But clearly public attitudes lag in some circles. Abuser circles, for example.
In some respects, Brown has responded well to the consequences of his crime.
He publicly spoke about his own father’s abusiveness toward his mother and of wanting never to be the kind of man who beat the women in his life. He apologizedto Rihanna — which is really the least he could do, but still he did it. But his plea for privacy should fall on deaf ears.
Sure, there are some details about a relationship that discretion demands be kept private — the details about a couple’s sex life or the “he said, she said” of petty arguments. But violence is violence, whether it occurs in the context of a relationship or not. Those who want to treat “domestic violence” as if it’s a private matter between partners or spouses are, purposely or otherwise, trying to downplay the seriousness of the crime. They’re treating the perpetrator as if he (or she) isn’t just as culpable as the thug who attacks a little old lady on the street, the redneck who assaults a gay man, or the drunk in the bar who beats up a stranger with a pool cue.
Why would anyone think that way? The old-fashioned feminist in me says that some sense of ownership is still implicit in man’s relationship to a wife or girlfriend. A man can do what he wishes with his property, after all. It’s nobody else’s business. This view was certainly predominent in the past, and in some cases, it is doubtless still a factor.
But it doesn’t explain the similar silence regarding violence between partners in same-sex relationships or in relationships where women abuse male partners. The answer probably lies deep in some complicated matrix of personal psychology and cultural norms.
Be that as it may, it’s important to remove any lingering veil of secrecy that shrouds “domestic violence.” Silence harms the victims of such crimes and empowers the abusers, giving them a public respectability they don’t deserve.
What Brown needs isn’t support from his fans, but a loud and clear message that it’s never a “private matter” when a man beats his girlfriend. It’s that man’s public disgrace.