At this point, not reading an article about Chris Brown would require willfully avoiding all news. Nearly four years have passed since Chris Brown’s violent assault against Rihanna, yet their former romantic relationship continues to be a vehicle for talking about domestic violence, and more specifically, teen dating abuse. Rihanna recently referred to the relationship as “first love” during her interview with Oprah and, indeed, both partners were young when they first started dating. When you tack on Chris Brown’s tattoo controversy and their shared kiss at the MTV Awards, it is no wonder there has been an outpouring of discussion about the often on-going relationship between survivor and abuser. Releasing two collaborative singles earlier this year, “Birthday Cake” and “Turn Up the Music,” Brown and Rihanna publicly explore lust and violence within the context of a relationship, showcasing that their relationship continues to be complicated to say the least. To say the most, it has taken on a meaning much beyond the personal relationship of two individuals.
Should their relationship be considered a “private family matter,” as Mirkarimi argued in his defense after allegations of domestic violence against his wife surfaced early this year, sparking a backlash that suspended his career as San Francisco’s Sherriff? When one in three teens across the U.S. will experience abuse in a dating relationship, the tumultuous drama of two pop stars can put into perspective what many youth are experiencing. The public’s response can be particularly revealing, demonstrating at times a dismissive or even tolerant attitude toward violence in a relationship – especially if it has not yet become physical violence. If we are already talking about dating abuse by fixating on celebrity relationships, how can we move the conversation towards advocacy against domestic violence? In other words, how can we propel gossip into good?
While stigma surrounding domestic violence and victim-blaming can be barriers to helpful conversation, expressing what a healthy relationship looks and feels like can foster accountability and social responsibility when engaging in relationships. With 57% of teens acknowledging that they know someone who has abused a partner physically, verbally, or sexually, dating abuse is not longer an issue we have the ability to “shield” teens from. Social media and texting further facilitate cognizance of dating violence on high school (and even middle school) campuses. Teens may be unsure how to respond to what they are seeing or experiencing, but they do know it is happening.
The solution is simple. The solution is talking. With the school year just beginning, talking about the impact of dating abuse has never been more critical. We can be having these conversations as concerned parents, students, and invested community members – whether peer-to-peer or advocating for policy implementation at the school district level. Primary prevention is about stopping dating abuse before it starts and changing the culture that sustains it. Through awareness and advocacy, we have the power to prevent dating abuse. Leaders in our community, such as school board members, have the power to implement policies that ensure teachers are prepared to intervene when abuse occurs and lead students to services that foster healthy relationships. The more we talk about teen dating abuse, the more we bring the issue back into our everyday reality as an issue we can solve and out of the realm of the tabloid.
To start the conversation, schedule a healthy relationship presentation for your classroom, youth group, or PTA meeting. Please contact Erin Daly, Community Engagement Specialist at SAVE (Safe Alternatives to Violent Environments) for more information. She can be reached at (510) 574-2254 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.