Posts Tagged ‘Domestic Violence’

I live in Oakland, California and I love it. Lake Merrit is one of my favorite spots. Because I grew up on the ocean I need to be around water and so I always pretend the Lake is the ocean. It works, especially on hot summer days.

If you haven’t been here, you should check it out the next time you visit the Bay Area. There is a gondola, a bird sanctuary, and it’s regularly used for exercise. Families, women, men, couples, and people with dogs, strollers or on bikes take the 3-mile journey around the Lake on a daily basis.

Sometimes, driving by at night, I will see a man running, alone, listening to his music on an ipod. And I will be jealous. So jealous.

I will be jealous because that man is doing something that I will never in my life have the chance to experience. I will never run, alone, around the Lake at night, oblivious to my surroundings while enjoying music on my ipod. Never. Not a chance.

Not because it’s Oakland. Because I am a woman and rape is always a threat.

I was probably about 12-yrs old the first time I took a self-defense class. I learned a lot of tricks to stay aware of my surroundings and how to fight back. But the thing that sticks out most in my mind all these years later is what I was told to scream, should I ever find myself attacked.

“Never,” the instructor said, “should you yell RAPE. Always, yell FIRE.” If you yell RAPE, no one wants to be involved, but if you yell FIRE, everyone wants to be a hero.

To this day, if I ever find myself walking to my car at night, alone, I repeat “FIRE, FIRE, FIRE” in my mind over and over in case someone attacks me. I want to be ready with the right word. I want someone to want to be a hero.

The fact that I haven’t been raped has everything to do with luck. It could happen at any time, in any city, day or night. These are the statistics. While never running alone at night or being prepared to yell FIRE may make me feel better and more in control, I don’t know that it’s actually lowering my risks of being attacked.

When I look back on life, especially all the times I was drunk in high school hanging out with the guys, I’m actually quite amazed that I escaped without assault. How sad is it, that I see this as lucky, instead of normal? I know it’s not normal. Almost every friend of mine from high school has a story, a story of a time when they felt threatened, when they went farther than they wanted to because they were afraid, and when they were forced to perform against their will. Almost every friend. I don’t think a single one of them ever reported it. We probably just avoided those guys in the future. We didn’t go to their party.

When I think about how lucky I am to have escaped rape on those drunken nights in high school, I know that I have yet to escape the threat of rape. No one really does. Even if I make it to 90, rape-free, and end up in a nice, quiet nursing home, my chances of being abused may have actually increased. Sexual assault and abuse of elders is on the rise.

This is what it’s like to be a woman in a rape culture.

When I think of the young woman in Richmond who was attacked, it is hard for me to describe my feelings. Pain. Agony. Sadness. Horror.

I think of all the women I talked to when I was a sexual assault counselor at BAWAR, and I know that healing is possible, and I know the road can be long.

I think about her family, her friends, and her community. I think about the family members of those young men who attacked her and how mortified and disappointed they must feel and I know that healing is possible for them too and that their road is also long.

Rape is not only a product of urban environments. Neither is being bystander. It is not just young black men perpetuating violence against young women. Rape happens in every community, in every environment, within and between every race. It is worldwide.

Rape, as every anti-violence advocate knows, is never about sex and always about power and control. It is used as a weapon. It is used to intimidate and to hurt others. It can be used by a husband against a wife, a famous celebrity against a promiscuous groupee, an uncle against a niece, a militia against a community, a prisoner against a fellow inmate. It knows no bounds across race or sexual orientation – straight men can rape other straight men.

It’s about power, not about sex.

None of these forms of rape are acceptable. It will not be OK for these young men to have done to them in jail what they did to the young woman. Violence as revenge, to exert power and control, is not the way to transform a culture from one that accepts rape as the status quo into a culture that supports bystanders willing to intervene when someone yells – or sees – RAPE.

Most of all, it does not help to have people like Deepak Chopra say on national television that these rapists and bystanders are emotionally retarded. This makes my stomach hurt. If one in six women will be assaulted in their life, we are all bystanders. We have all stood by and watched, and laughed and took pictures because if we haven’t done something to end violence against women and communities of color, then we may as well have. Because we’re standing by, letting it happen.

So, what do we do? We do as Akua Jackson, Director of Programs for Youth Together said in her CNN interview: we all take responsibility. Parents, teachers, youth, organizations, law enforcement, elected officials, clergy, community members. Preventing rape, stopping rape, is everyone’s responsibility.

Each of us can stop being a bystander. We can be an ally. An advocate.

What I remember most from my days as a rape-crisis counselor was how few women who are raped are believed, and how few report (and often, for good reason). The primary thing we did on the BAWAR hotline is believe callers when no one else would. Rape is so horrible and unimaginable in most of our minds that we would rather play tricks on ourselves than deal with the reality of a rape of someone we love, or of the truth of someone we love being a rapist.

That night in Richmond, it seems that every single person made the wrong choice. The wrong choice to rape. The wrong choice to watch. The wrong choice to laugh. The wrong choice not to act.

Luckily, we get to make the right choice.

We can start by showing our support for this community and these families and the many people, leaders, youth and organizations who have made significant progress in creating a safer, more just community in Richmond. We can let them know we are with them and we believe.

Community Healing Event and Candlelight Vigil at Richmond High School

What: Community Healing Event
When: Tuesday, November 3, 2009, 3:30 p.m. – 5:30 p.m.
Where: Richmond High School (back Football Field), 1250 23rd Street, Richmond, CA
Who: Students, Teachers, Community Leaders, and Public Officials

Then, perhaps, I can achieve my dream. To run at night, alone, without fear. And a smile.

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How did Rorschach get so dark, moody and cold? When he was a child his mother, a whore apparently, yelled at him: “I should have had an abortion!” That would do it.

On the flip side, Laurie Jupiter finds out her real father is not who she thinks he is. Instead, it is Edward Blake, The Comedian, who once brutally beat her mother Sally Jupiter and attempted to rape her. Supposedly, though she marries another, she “loves” the Comedian, their relationship is “complicated” and their supposedly consensual-sex years later produces daughter Laurie, her “true gift” and the reason she never regrets her affair with the man who once assaulted her.

So, let me get this straight. A whore does not get her abortion, regrets continuing her pregnancy and produces a cold, calculating killer. A female guardian is brutalized by her compatriot, has sex with him years later and produces a daughter who grows into a sexy, adventurous do-gooder.

I know its a comic-book thing, but really, why is abortion even part of this dialogue? Both women got pregnant scandalously by men other than their husbands and both had babies (no abortions). But, to appropriately portray one as evil and the other as good, they use how the woman takes to her pregnancy and motherly duties as the true test of her character, and thus an explanation for their child’s path. The woman who rejects her motherly instincts, who goes so far as to say she wishes she had an abortion is evil, while the other one withstands beatings and attempted rape all to find her perfect role as mother.

Riiigghhttttttt….listen up ladies! Love comes with pain and its all worth it in the end! Just take it!

Obviously, I am joking. But one minute I’m writing about how Rhianna is taking the abuse of Chris Brown and the next minute I am seeing a movie that glosses over abuse with words like complicated and sends the message, clearly and specifically (i.e., Dr. Manhattan’s speech on Mars) that taking abuse is noble.


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The rumors have been flying.

Rhianna and Chris Brown are back together, or at least, they are talking, reports People. Those who blamed Rhianna from the beginning are basking in the idea that she made it all up to begin with while those who went on the attack against Chris are left feeling betrayed and embittered about rising to her defense. Many of us are saddened or confused, and worried about the “message” her behavior is sending to other young people who have been hurt in their dating relationships.

As a long-time advocate against domestic violence, I am all too well aware about the data that tells us it usually takes a woman multiple attempts to leave her abusive partner, and that leaving is often the most dangerous thing she can do. It is easy for those on the outside to tell women they should leave and judge them when they don’t, but what these women know all too well, is that leaving can put their life in even more danger.

This is what also makes it hard to be around someone in an abusive relationship. It is hard to stand by their side when they return, when they choose to stay. It is hard to see the signs of abuse and not be able to make someone you care about safe.

Rhianna and Chris Brown are living out the reality of domestic violence in front of all our eyes, in front of the world. Being famous or rich or beautiful doesn’t make domestic violence less real or easier to escape.

Elizabeth Méndez Berry lays out the hard facts in her article, Chris Brown, Rhianna and Reality, for New American Media:

For black women ages 15 to 29 —Rihanna’s demographic— homicide is the second leading cause of death, after accidents, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A woman’s most likely murderer is her current or former romantic partner.

The problem is widespread: the U.S. Department of Justice recently reported that in 2007 intimate partner assaults on women were up 42 percent. Sadly, the response to Brown and Rihanna reveals why this goes unchecked: more time is spent attacking the individuals than tackling the problem.

The Family Violence Prevention Fund (FVPF) reminds us that this incident “is a stark reminder of the urgent need for education and prevention.” And what we need is exactly what we are missing: public voices willing to use this teachable moment to take a stand for the following principles laid out by the FVPF:

Violence is never acceptable. Nothing a victim does, and nothing in a perpetrator’s background, ever justifies violence. Those who commit violence must be held accountable. Victims of violence need and deserve protection, support and privacy.

In her article Brown V Monkey on the Huffington Post, Jehmu Greene takes it a step further and laments:

The beating Rihanna experienced at the hands of Chris Brown was tragic, but definitely not uncommon. .. black men are killing young black women in such high numbers it beats out accidents and every illness you can imagine. Where is the outrage? Where is the boycott? Where is the speech? I have never received a call to action email on behalf of black women affected by domestic abuse – at a rate 35% higher than our white counterparts.

Even celebrities like Kanye West who was one of the first to step up and take a stand for Rhianna is quoted as saying “can’t we give Chris a break?.. I know I make mistakes in life” on unaired footage of his VHI’s Storytellers.

Unfortunately, as Méndez Berry points out in her article:

whether a case involves celebrities or civilians, too many demonize one person instead of humanizing both.

We can humanize both. We don’t have to boycott or hate or blame. We must understand, support and love. This is how we end violence.

Most importantly, Yes Means Yes reminds that even if these rumors are true, there are still many things that remain untrue. Rhianna reuniting with Chris does not mean the following:

1. It doesn’t mean she is stupid.
2. It doesn’t mean we should forgive him.
3. It doesn’t mean what he’s alleged to have done is any less horrible.
4. It doesn’t mean she has betrayed any kind of sisterhood.
5. It doesn’t mean that if he hurts her again, she deserves it.

There may seem to her to be a million reasons for her to take him back. Not one of them means that she deserves to be hurt again. No one deserves to be beaten or abused. Ever. By anyone. Period.

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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.

What About Our Daughters writes:

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.

Alex Pates (15) and Ansheera Ace Hilliard (17) of The Women and Girls Collective Action Network said it best in their statement on the situation:

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.


Call 1-866-331-9474

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*** UPDATE 2-20-09***
Read my latest post on the loss of Rhianna’s privacy here

After several quotes and videos showing celebrities not taking the issue of possible violence by Chris Brown against Rhianna seriously, we’re finally starting to see some step up and take a stand AGAINST violence and judgment and FOR support, healing and accountability.

All from People.com

Kerry Washington:

At a luncheon in Beverly Hills for V-Day, The Vagina Monologues playwright Eve Ensler’s movement to end violence against women and girls: “If we talk about violence against women, my hope is we don’t talk about it as petty gossip but as a social illness that must end. So if that’s what’s going on, then we need to all be aware this is a problem that goes from the Congo to Hollywood and everywhere in between,”

John Legend:

“It’s an awful story,” he said. “I feel terrible for both of them but if Chris did what they said he did, that’s unacceptable. He has to accept the consequences of it.”

Will Smith:

If there are mistakes people make, then they should be willing to live up to the mistakes and do whatever penance they need to do.


“This is a real situation,..You have to have compassion for others. Just imagine it being your sister or mom and then think about how we should talk about that…I just think we should all support her. She’s going through a tough time. You have to realize she’s a young girl, as well. She’s very young.”

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*** UPDATE 2-20-09***
Read my latest post on the loss of Rhianna’s privacy here

***UPDATE 2-15-09***
Read Chris Brown’s statement
Read what caring celebrity voices are saying against violence and for accountability.

I had just settled in with a glass of wine to watch the end of the grammy’s red carpet when I heard Ryan Seacrest say something about Rhianna and Chris canceling their appearance and performances, but he was very vague on the reason. I jumped onto TMZ and got the gossip: Chris had beat up Rhianna.

Here’s what I read:

Chris Brown Investigated for Alleged Assault

Law enforcement sources tell TMZ Chris Brown is being investigated by the LAPD in an alleged assault on a female.

According to police, Brown and a woman whom cops refuse to identify were arguing inside a vehicle around 12:30 this morning when suddenly things allegedly turned violent.

Cops say they received a 911 call, and when they arrived they noticed the woman had visible injuries. We’re told she then identified Brown as her attacker. Cops say Brown had left the scene by the time police arrived.

Cops say they are looking to speak with Brown and may arrest him when they find him.

When we called reps for Brown’s girlfriend, Rihanna, for a statement, her people told us, “Rihanna is well. Thank you for your concern and support.”

UPDATE: Grammy officials have just announced that Rihanna will neither perform on the show tonight — as scheduled — nor walk the red carpet for the event. The same announcement has been made about Chris.

Then Rolling Stone:

And I started to read stuff like this:

Well he can assault ME if we want, I wouldn’t mind at all!!

Besides, that damn girlfriend of his..Rihanna…is driving him NUTS with her insecurity and possessiveness. He’s too young to be tied down Rihanna!!!!!! The sun does not rise and shine in YOUR poontang!

Poor fellow. He got mixed up with a Third World Witch. Wow. She drove him to the edge with her controlling azz! He shoulda stuck to the fine American-bred girls instead of that Islander trash.

My daddy always said…’When you play in trash, it’ll get in your eyes’. Hang in there Chris. You’re the only one in that relationship with talent! Don’t let her take you down to her level….TRASH.

Wow. A woman gets beat up and its her fault? The fans come out to support him? It gets worse, and worse, and worse….

Afrobella writes for many:

Take a gander at any of the popular gossip blogs right now, and read those comments if you want to feel your blood pressure rise. I’m not about to link to any of the posts that REALLY got my goat, but I need to get this off my chest. As a proud Trinidadian woman, a West Indian woman, a woman from the islands… I do NOT appreciate the stereotypes that are being thrown around by commenters seeking to condone or explain this act of violence.

Finally, Kanye West tells Ryan Seacrest, in support of Rhianna:

“[Rihanna] has the potential to be, you know, the greatest artist of all time and, in that sense, I feel like [she is] my baby sis,” added West. “I would do any and everything to help her in any situation.”

“I feel like, just as a person, I don’t care how famous she is or even if she just worked at McDonald’s, that should never happen. It should never come to that, to that place.”

Not to mention, big, big privacy questions. Typically the names of domestic violence survivors, or other survivors of sexual or intimate violence, are not released. But the LATimes decided to print Rhianna’s name anyways, stating:

“The Times has a blanket policy when it comes to not naming victims of sexual assault. There isn’t a set policy when it comes to physical assault or a criminal threat. In that case, there’s a decision internally and on a case-by-case basis of whether to name somebody. In this case, obviously there was a discussion among the editors about this. The nature of this case – against the backdrop of the Grammy’s, the delay in changing things, the explanations put out by both camps – the decision was made that this was fair game.”

Emily comments on the Bitch Magazine blog:

I think that it’s very important for people to consider the lack of privacy Rihanna is receiving right now.

So, what do I think about it all?

I think its awfully sad. I think violence between people that love each other is always sad and awful, and even though I know how common domestic violence is (in teen relationships, adult ones, with famous people, rich folks, poor folks, gay folks, in brown and white communities and everyone else), it doesn’t make it any less worse for those who experience it and those who witness it.

And right now, we are all witnesses.

I think the reactions that are happening online about this very famous couple mirrors what happens in real life – it is so hard for us to believe that someone we know, care about and/or admire could hurt someone else that we jump through all kinds of hoops in our mind to make it not so. It is so hard for us to believe that someone we trust could intentionally and violently hurt someone else, that we make up excuses and reasons on their behalf, even when it means we deny the pain and experience of someone else.

Denial is such a common reaction – it was denied for years that priests could molest boys, denied that workplace sexual harassment was wrong, that date rape is in fact actual rape, and on, and on, and on…Denial allows us to make-believe that we are safe and that it is someone else’s problem. Denial prevents us from action, from taking responsibility, for trying to make something better. As each one of us witnesses the violence of this relationship, many of us are responding with denial online.

I worked at domestic violence agency that worked with men – straight and gay men who had hurt their partners and lovers. We ran batterer intervention programs with the belief that violent men can unlearn their ways. We saw how the cycle of violence can repeat itself across generations and I met men bound and determined to not teach their children what they learned. It is a hard road.

And it is possible.

I believe Kevin Powell sums it up best:

Given all the hype and controversy around Chris Brown’s alleged beating of Rihanna, I feel compelled to post this essay I originally wrote in late 2007, so that some of us can have an honest jump off point to discuss male violence against females, to discuss the need for ownership of past pains and traumas, to discuss the critical importance of therapy and healing. Let us pray for Rihanna, first and foremost, because no one deserves to be beaten, or beaten up. No one. And let us also pray that Chris Brown gets the help he needs by way of long-term counseling and alternative definitions of manhood rooted in nonviolence, real love, and, alas, real peace. And let us not forget that Rihanna and Chris Brown happen to be major pop stars, hence all the media coverage, blogs, etc. Violence against women and girls happens every single day on this planet without any notice from most of us. Until we begin to address that hard fact, until we all, males and females alike, make a commitment to ending the conditions that create that destructive behavior in the first place, it will not end any time soon. There will be more Rihannas and more Chris Browns.

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