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As Chris Brown prepares to return to court for the third time, ESSENCE.com asked relationship expert Dr. Gail E. Wyatt to weigh in on how Rihanna can begin to move forward in her life and career.
Just because Rihanna is an entertainer, that does not make her the poster child for domestic violence. There are plenty of everyday women who could be. A poster child is aware of how she might have contributed to the violence, forgives herself, and can speak to other people about what they need to do as a survivor. In order to be that person and move on with her life, she would have to admit that she was battered much like an alcoholic does when they attend an alcoholic anonymous meeting. Saying nothing about what happened to her makes a woman a victim not a survivor. It would be mentally healthy for Rihanna and Chris to both admit what has happened to them and what each of them has done. However, I wouldn’t stereotype or blame either one of them.
I’ve heard a lot of people say that Rihanna hasn’t owned this title of “battered woman,” but how can she with all this criticism? People need to stay out of her and Chris’s business because what happened between them is serious and should not be public fodder. They don’t need to involve any other people who will only advise them based on their personal experiences and exposure. Also, outsiders can do more harm than good because it can cause them to become defensive toward the outside world and find solace and protection in one another by reuniting. Right now, they need to stay far away from one another until each of them seeks professional help.
Another important issue to consider is that the African-American community has a lot of confusion as to what domestic violence really is because it’s not talked about or reported as often as it should be. According to statistics, every 1 out of 4 women report incidents of having been assaulted by their male partners, but there are no studies on the prevalence of a females striking first, resulting in the escalation of the male overpowering and winning that altercation. So how do we define domestic violence? Do you only find the person who lost the fight, runs to the police, screams, defaces valued property, throws things, name calls, threatens animals or children, a victim of domestic violence?
In Rihanna and Chris Brown’s case, we don’t know what made their situation spiral out of control. Everything we believe to be true is all hearsay. At the end of the day, it’s imperative that they get professional help, individually. And I don’t mean going to the minister or your parents because the Black church has often been negligent when it comes to sexual or physical abuse by virtue of its own history. It’s not a good idea and too premature for them to consider reuniting or rekindling their relationship. Unfortunately, some people are not interested in changing their behaviors and that means they don’t need to be in a relationship. So what does love have to do with it? Judging by what we were shown in the media, what happened between Chris and Rihanna wasn’t love. Love is based on trust, respect and care and I didn’t see that. Somebody can say they love you and beat the hell out of you and kill you. And that kind of love just isn’t enough.
Dr. Gayle E. Wyatt, Ph.D. is a professor of Psychiatry & Biobehavioral Sciences at UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior;
Director of UCLA Sexual Health Program and Center for Culture, Trauma on Mental Health Disparities; and an Associate Director, UCLA AIDS Institute