Teen Girls Say Rihanna Is to Blame for Assault

Filed under: In The News, New In Pop Culture

Rihanna Chris BrownThink your daughter knows her boyfriend shouldn't hit her? Think again -- teen girls are rushing to defend Chris Brown, and are placing the blame for her beating squarely on Rihanna.

Last week, Oprah Winfrey devoted an entire show to talking about dating violence, specifically to the recent incident between rapper Chris Brown and pop diva Rihanna. There was a lot of eye rolling on the part of viewers, because really, do we need to hear this again?

Apparently the answer is yes, we do. Or at least our teenage daughters do, because they are flocking to Brown's defense. Brown, 19, is accused of assaulting Rihanna; the 21-year-old wound up in the hospital with a black eye and bloodied face. Yet in spite of the graphic nature of her injuries, Brown's female fans are standing by him -- and blaming Rihanna for the incident.

"She probably made him mad for him to react like that," a ninth grader told the "New York Times." "You know, like, bring it on?"

Another girl added, "She probably feels bad that it was her fault, so she took him back."

And this from a third: "I don't think he'll hit her like that again."

But it gets worse: Nearly half of Boston teenagers surveyed said Rihanna was responsible for the attack. The Boston Public Health Commission talked with 200 Boston youths age 12 to 19, all of whom said they were familiar with the story. 46% of those kids said the whole thing was Rihanna's fault, while 52% said the media were treating Brown unfairly.

Apparently Oprah's assertion that "If a man hits you once, he will hit you again...Love doesn't hurt," is unfair to Chris Brown. Go figure.

"The New York Times" offers some explanations for teen girls' loyalty to Brown: They are jealous of Rihanna and of her relationship with the hip-hop star. They see the baby-faced Brown as young and innocent and incapable of violence. And they interpret his personal story of abuse (his mother was a victim) as an excuse. "They feel bad for him," posits Mimi Valdés Ryan, editor-in-chief of "Latina" magazine. "It's not his fault, he doesn't know better. We need not judge him."

The problem, of course, is that we do need to judge him, or at least his behavior. The reaction of his young female fans -- who are heaping the blame on Rihanna, claiming in blog posts and Facebook discussions that she deserved to be beaten -- is entirely inappropriate. And more than that, it is frightening.

As a parent, I am horrified by these young women's comments. But I can also see the bind they are in. They hear that abuse is unacceptable, that they should walk away from an abuser -- but then they see Rihanna reuniting with Brown, almost immediately after the incident. They hear that they are equal to their male peers, in intellect and ability and responsibility, and then they see Brown being charged with a crime while Rihanna is labeled a victim. And, saddest of all, they see their peers being abused without comment or intervention and they wonder what the furor is about. Danielle Shores, 17, told the "New York Times:" "Yeah, men hit women, and women hit men. It was blown out of proportion because they're celebrities."

The bottom line seems to be this: No matter how much we talk about dating violence, there is always room for more conversation. Teens -- young women in particular, but young men as well -- need to be reminded that abuse has no place in a romantic relationship. This specific conversation, about Chris Brown and Rihanna, opens the door for us to talk to our kids about dating violence, but it also opens up a discussion of how teen culture -- television and music and celebrity gossip -- influences their values and actions.

It's not enough, apparently, to say that our daughters need to stand up for themselves; after all, these girls are standing up for Chris Brown. We need to talk with them about how they choose their role models, and what it means to look up to someone, and what to do when that role model falls short of their expectations.

And we need to make absolutely sure they understand that it is never okay for a man to hit a woman -- or vice versa.

Have you talked to your teen about Chris Brown and Rihanna? What are your kids saying?

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.