Why Rihanna Forgiving Chris Brown Isn't All That Uncommon
Domestic violence experts speak
Every year an estimated 1.3 million women are victims of physical assault by an intimate partner. In 2009 Rihanna became one of these women when her then-boyfriend Chris Brown beat her in the early morning hours of a February night after leaving a pre-Grammy Awards party by car. Over three years later, the media circus and public scrutiny that immediately followed the pair has showed no signs of slowing down, and interest in the former lovers is continually stoked by persistent rumors of secret--and not so secret--reunions and, now, an emotional interview Rihanna had with Oprah Winfrey.
Sunday night Rihanna appeared on Oprah's "Next Chapter" where she revealed, after much speculation (and at the likely risk of losing some of her diehard fans), that she has not only forgiven Brown, but that the two have rebuilt a friendship. She also admitted that she does - and will always - love him.
"I have forgiven him," she said. "We've been working on our friendship again. Now we're very, very close friends. We built a trust again and that's it. We've just worked on it little by little and it has not been easy. We love each other and we probably always will and that's not anything that we're going to try to change. It's not something that you can shut off. I truly love him. I'm not at peace if he's a little unhappy or he's still lonely. I care. It actually matters [to me]."
The interview left many to wonder if Rihanna would incur a wave of disappointment for absolving Brown of his actions. However, Angela Hale of the National Domestic Violence Hotline, says that forgiving an abuser isn't all that rare for a victim.
"It is common for someone to leave a relationship and--especially when it's a first love--still have feelings for [the abuser] because they tend to reflect on the good times," Hale said. "What it sounds like Rihanna's doing is going through the healing process."
That process, according to Rita Smith, executive director of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, includes sessions of self-reflection. "You have to talk about the trauma you experienced," she said. "Were there signs that I missed, some indication that this was going to happen? Can I teach myself to see those signs, even if I'm in love with someone else, before I get hurt again?"
There are some who hold the opinion that showing mercy is a means to mending for victims of any kind of trauma. "Some survivors of abuse find forgiveness to be a powerful way to get past the atrocities they experienced; similar to mothers who choose to forgive the drunk driver who killed their child," said Cindy Southworth, vice president of Development & Innovation for the National Network to End Domestic Violence.
In the world of domestic violence assistance, advocates and counselors aim to practice a judgment-free evaluation of their clients' situations and are determined to allow women the free exercise of their right to choose, even if that means choosing to maintain a relationship with their abuser after assault. The point is to offer protection to women, not policy.
"I think that [having a friendship with your abuser] depends on the relationship, how much violence the victim experienced and whether or not they believe the person cannot be abusive in the future," said Smith. "Relationships are complex, even when there's violence involved. It is difficult to walk away and turn your back on somebody. It's common to want to get back together if they believe there's been real significant changes."
While Hale affirms that the National Domestic Violence Hotline (which has already received nearly 130,000 calls this year) does not "encourage" continued friendships between victims and their abusers, Southworth believes that the media circus surrounding the in-and-out of love couple is following the wrong narrative.
"I am appalled at the public scrutiny and judgment of Rihanna--and any victim--since, as a society, we are so quick to ask, 'Why did the victim stay? How could she forgive?' I'm dismayed to hear that people are even asking about her response to the abuse and how it might or might not impact her fans. Any victim of crime deserves our respect and their privacy. We never ask, 'Why does our community allow and condone the abuse? Why aren’t we talking about probation compliance of offenders instead? Why don't we hold our friends, brothers, colleagues, sons and those in the public eye accountable when they abuse?'"