Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Chris Brown and Rihanna: WHY IT HAPPENED

It's hard to imagine that anyone would want to physically harm someone as beautiful, successful, and likeable as Rihanna, or that she would suffer an abusive relationship quietly. But we are learning more of the details of her attack as she is now fully cooperating with police.

We know that last Saturday night Chris Brown and Rihanna began to argue in the front seat of his rented silver Lamborghini. But what we did not know is that as the fight escalated, Rihanna threw Brown's keys out of the car window enraging him until he began to choke his girlfriend screaming, "I'm going to kill you!" At which point Rihanna lost consciousness.

Understandably, the incident is having an emotional impact as well as an impact on her career. People Magazine is reporting that Rihanna has canceled upcoming concerts openly citing "an assault case" involving singer Chris Brown.

This case is shocking, but it has left some wondering, how common is this?

According to a study published just this year in the Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, despite everything we currently know about domestic violence it, "remains disturbingly common in the United States" and further, "roughly a quarter of women in the United States will experience physical violence from an intimate partner at some point in their adult lives". The Mayo Clinic reports that as many as 4 million women suffer abuse from their husbands, ex-husbands, boyfriends or intimate partners in the United States each year.

As details emerge about the case and about Chris Brown's abusive past, the picture becomes clearer where he would learn such behavior. In a 2007 interview with GIANT magazine, Brown talks about the abuse his mother suffered at the hands of her husband, his stepfather.

"He used to hit my mom. … He made me terrified all the time,” Brown claimed. “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.”

He goes on to explain the cause of his stepfather's aggression and possible depression stating that his stepfather attempted suicide by shooting himself in the head. The shot went straight through the eyes yet he survived the suicide attempt, and was permanently blinded.

But the question remains...why? How can Chris Brown-- in all of his success-- do this to such a lovely young lady?

The journal Violence Against Women explains that dating violence tends to happen to those with higher levels of depression, who have suicidal thoughts, and who are less educated. The use of alcohol while depressed can complicated things further. This explains Chris' stepfather for sure, but does it explain Brown's abuse of his girlfriend Rihanna?

Abuse is about wanting to instill fear and take over control of the relationship. It's how some men gain power over their significant other. But where does it come from?

Dr. Rowell Huesmann and his colleagues at the University of Michigan have extensively researched the Chris Browns of the world. What they found, is that severe violent behavior is almost always the product of a child being regularly exposed to violence in their immediate environment.

Short term violence is one thing, but Dr. Huesmann says that the long-term effects of exposure to real-life violence are learned-- that-- coupled with "emotional desensitization" can be a toxic mix. (Source: The Cambridge handbook of violent behavior and aggression)

By the same token, women who suffer violence have most likely learned that as well. We don't know yet why Rihanna would allow this to happen to her, but it likely starts with low self-worth and the belief that she doesn't deserve to be treated better. The fact that Chris Brown learned how to treat women at home is not an excuse for what he's done because there is even more evidence that those with such backgrounds who seek help can unlearn that behavior and go on to have healthy relationships. The only upside here is that this horrific incident has opened up the discussion regarding domestic violence and I suspect that Rihanna's next move could save lives.

Where to find help

Nobody deserves to be abused, if you or someone you know is suffering- here are some helpful resources:

-National Domestic Violence Hotline: (800) 799-SAFE, or (800) 799-7233. Provides crisis intervention and referrals to in-state or out-of-state resources, such as women's shelters or crisis centers.

-Your doctor or hospital emergency room. Treats any injuries and refers you to safe housing and other local resources.

-Local women's shelter or crisis center. Typically provides 24-hour, emergency shelter for you and your children, advice on legal matters, advocacy and support services, and evaluation and monitoring of abusers.