Past Event

Blaming the Survivor: It’s bigger than Chris and Rihanna

Special guest speakers from Women and Girls Collective Action Network will be at Intelligentsia Coffee on Monday.

"Recently, there has been a lot of gossip around the events surrounding the singers Chris Brown and Rihanna." So begins an open letter written by teenagers involved in Females United For Action (FUFA), part of Women and Girls Collective Action Network (CAN). Women and Girls CAN is on a mission to raise consciousness, training, dialogue, and action around issues that matter to women and girls. The letter criticizes the media and others of unfairly blaming the survivor, in this case Rihanna, in domestic violence (DV) cases.

Megan Twohey and Bonnie Miller Rubin of The Chicago Tribune have observed something similar. They write: "Ed Loos, a junior at Lake Forest High School, said a common reaction among students to Chris Brown’s alleged attack on Rihanna goes something like this: ‘Ha! She probably did something to provoke it’." Most psychologists would reject the notion that he or she must have done something to "provoke" their partner’s abusive behaviors. They would say that violence is a learned behavior and that survivors of DV and childhood abuse often become perpetrators themselves.

In a 2007 Interview with GIANT magazine, Brown described his former stepfather’s past beatings: "He used to hit my mom. … He made me terrified all the time. I remember one night he made her nose bleed. I was crying and thinking, I’m just gonna go crazy on him one day. … I hate him to this day." Does the fact that Brown was raised in an abusive household complicate our understanding of what transpired the night of the altercation? Can we as a society acknowledge patterns of abuse while holding abusers accountable for their actions?

In her book Coercive Control, Evan Stark writes: "By the late 1990’s battering had replaced (in popular media) substance abuse, illegitimacy, infidelity and terminal illness as the interpersonal problem of choice." Is Stark right? Do we enlist voyeuristic behaviors towards domestic violence, seeking cheap thrills by witnessing both fictional and real accounts of abuse? When a picture of a battered and bruised Rihanna made the blog-sphere rounds a few weeks back and was met with jokes and snide comments, many began to wonder.

According to a 24-hour census of domestic violence shelters and centers conducted by the National Network to End Domestic Violence, the incidences of DV cases remain remarkably high. The following data was found:

  • Over 20,300 adults and children sought refuge in emergency shelter in a day.
  • More than 10,000 adults and children were living in transitional housing.
  • Over 30,300 adults and children received non-residential services, such as counseling, legal advocacy, and support groups.
  • Over 21,500 domestic violence hotline calls were made.

What members of FUFA found most chilling about this data is that it only represents a 24 hour period. How many more are affected throughout the year?

Why are survivors unfairly blamed in cases of domestic violence? Should perpetrators of domestic violence also be viewed as victims? What are the implications of race, gender, and culture in issues of domestic abuse? What should the penalties of domestic violence be? Why does domestic violence happen, and what can we do to stop it?

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For more information, call 312.422.5580.