Within seconds, I received several messages over twitter, linking to the photo of Rhianna, eyes closed, bloody lip, swollen nose, with a bare neck and a visible tattoo on her shoulder. I felt sick to my stomach. Sick that this happened to her, to any woman, to any man, but most of all, felt sick that I could see it. That I, and everyone else, had access to her private, personal pain, and most of all, without her permission.
This is domestic violence, squared.
I will not post the photo here because I will not contribute to the erosion of her privacy, or contribute to taking things out of her hands, out of her control. What survivors of violence need is the exact opposite – the chance to regain control, in their own way, on their own time.
I think its a terrible invasion of her privacy at this point and time. Domestic violence is ABSOLUTELY A PUBLIC ISSUE. Anytime someone touches your body without consent, there is a legitimate state interest in the matter. This isn’t about them never being released. It isn’t about Rihanna having any reason to be embarrassed by her wounds. Its about timing. Could we have not let her bruises fade before we gawked at the damage? Could we have waited for the criminal process to commence?
Chris Brown is safely ensconced in the bosom of his Mama and Preacha’. Rihanna has been stripped bare for all the world to gawk at and I doubt her injuries have healed.
Healing for survivors is about gaining control. As an advocate, you never tell a survivor what to do – you don’t tell them to report, or to leave, or to fight back – you are their witness as they make decisions for themselves, you stand beside them as they gain their sense of power back.
I hope with my whole heart that Rhianna has a team of witnesses standing beside her, holding her pain with her, remaining vigilant to her needs, being with her as she gains her life back, her sense of self and a freedom from fear.
Truthfully, I wish the same for Chris, and that his love is a tough love. That he too is surrounded by people who truly love him and who will demonstrate that love by holding him accountable to a path of healing and restoration.
I am greatly concerned about how the media’s treatment of Rhianna will affect other survivors of violence.
We think that when the media blames survivors, and questions their decision whether or not to leave, it can scare a survivor away from getting help, because it seems like nobody will sympathize with her or even believe her. Or even worse, she’ll be blamed for the abuse. We want young women and genderqueer youth of color to have our voices in the media so that survivors don’t look bad and they aren’t made to look like trash or like they deserve the violence.
The MTV special, “Love in Trouble,” attributes part of the popularity of Rhianna and Chris to the fact they “seemed real, genuine” and they “had an authenticity fans found refreshing.” Unfortunately, reality isn’t always perfect and Rhianna and Chris are just one public example of the one in three teens who have experienced violence in their dating relationships. They do not need to be the poster children for violence, and in the end, they, like their fans, do not live perfect lives, and have more in common with all of our lives than any of us want.
If you are being hurt, if you are afraid, or if you are feeling confused, there is someone to talk to.