Tuesday, March 31, 2009

What's Feminism Got to do with Rihanna?

The Huffington Post has an interesting article today by Patrick Souer. Apparently a notable majority of teens and reporters blame Rihanna to some degree for the abuse she experienced at the hands of Chris Brown.

How could this be? Isn't Barack Obama a sign of the times? A time where progressive mentalities dominate the racist and sexist ideologies of past generations? Perhaps feminism took a wrong turn somewhere down the line, or the movement still has much further to go, evident by our young women's attitudes about Rihanna.

Souer conjures that some people could construe feminism as the culprit for the misconceptions by teens about whose at fault for Chris Brown beating Rihanna because feminism has confused the established gender roles and made women believe that they are equal to men -- included in that is taking equal responsibility for abuse that happens to them at the hands of men.

Mocking those who could believe this, he writes, " . . . when teenage girls are unclear as to whether a man punching, biting and choking a woman so badly that she lands in a hospital is inhuman? Is it because women are too often cast as victims, which their male counterparts don't accept...because they have been taught the genders are 100% equal?"

I was highly disturbed when I began hearing more and more about the support and personal defense Chris Brown was receiving from his fan base and teenagers, specifically. Did the work of my grandmothers, my aunts, my mother, and my own 25 years of activism not affect any change?

Women's rights and issues like domestic violence and sexual assault are receiving more public attention and legal protection than ever before, but there is a still a long way to go before our society changes the gender stereotypes and learned faslehoods which can lead a notable majority of Americans to stand in ignorant support of a man who abused his girlfriend. I believe feminism is not the culprit of these misconceptions, but the answer to healing them.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Spot Light: Florida

In light of recent reports, women in Florida are bearing the brunt of the national economic down turn through the increase of abuse they receive at home by their unemployed partners. Statistics show violence in the home increases during economic hardship, and what is being reported by the Florida State Coalition Against Domestic Violence (FCADV) is exactly that.

From an article in the Miami Harold, "The [FCADV] says in its report to the Legislature that when perpetrators are laid off, the severity and frequency of violent assaults increase because the perpetrators are home more often."

Violence against women increases for other reasons as well. The deepest root of domestic violence has to do with our social definitions of masculinity. Being a man in this society means, among other things, being strong, dominant and in control (see The Man Box for more details). Domestic violence, a pattern of behavior defined by one partner holding power and control over the other, is a way for men to both personally and publicly satisfy that definition of masculinity. When a man feels inadequate or weak, by way of unemployment, suppressed childhood violence, or unregistered emotional pain, he may take it out on his wife or girlfriend.

Other states besides Florida are suffering in the same way. According the National Network to End Domestic Violence Annual Census, the economic crisis affects victims of violence in 2 major ways. First, incidents of domestic violence significantly increase as the economy falls. Second, funding is cut and service providers are unable to provide as many services as needed. This inverse correlation is incredibly problematic for those women who need help now more than ever before.

WomensLaw.org is a free website and email hotline with legal info (like how to get a restraining order) for every state in the USA, including Guam, Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. If you or someone you know needs help or support, check us out or email us for more assistance. We're here for you.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Domestic Violence in the Age of Social Media

Are you on Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, Digg, Blogger or any of the other dozens of social media applications sprouting up faster than the New York MTA can raise their fares?

Since you are reading this blog, I'm going to go ahead and bet that you are on at least one, if not more, of those sites.

Now, here is my question: How is social media affecting the problem of domestic violence?

As I was getting dressed this morning, I heard a story on the radio about a 14 year old girl who posted nude photos of herself on her MySpace profile and now is consequently being charged with child pornography distribution, and if convicted could be forced to register as a sex offender.

A few months ago, we blogged about a woman who broke up with her abusive partner and then changed her Facebook Relationship Status to "Single". The media identified this incident as the reason beyond her ex's decision to kill her. (Obviously, his violence towards her was not caused by this alone, but the story did bring attention to the magnitude of the role which social media sites are playing in people's lives today.)

If you search for "domestic violence" in YouTube 11,700 results appear, including PSAs about abuse and personal video diaries. The community of victims of abuse I have seen on YouTube and Facebook is overwhelming.

WomensLaw.org uses the internet to give legal help and support to victims of abuse, their friends, family and advocates. The Internet can be a powerful tool for disseminating information and reaching people who prefer the fast and anonymous nature of the web over other channels of communication, but there are some serious dangers and risks associated with the internet.

The 14 year girl who posted pictures of herself is an example of the ignorance with which the majority of internet users (not just teenagers) treat their email, online profiles and internet searches. Eyes are everywhere and it is crucial to be careful and smart about what we put out there and where/and what we search.

Social media is changing the way we relate to each other in this society - from how we gather information to how we keep in touch with our friends, and even how we date. What do you guys think? How else is social media changing this world, especially the world of domestic violence?

Monday, March 23, 2009

"Who is Helping Rihanna?" A National Statement from the Women of Color Network

This is a National Statement from the Women of Color Network. We thought it was so terrific we have reposted it here.

"Harrisburg, PA: The alleged domestic violence incident involving Chris Brown and R&B singer Rihanna has ignited national discussion about dating violence.

The early media coverage focused on the chain of events: how the seemingly happy couple attended the Grammy Awards parties; the argument over a text message; Brownís physical assault of Rihanna; her calls to her personal assistant to have the police waiting for her when she arrived at home; and Brownís threats to kill her. The shock of the picture bearing Rihannaís battered face seemed to quell any denial that the incident actually happened. People began to ask, "How could Chris Brown have done this?"

Then, as rumors began to swirl that Rihanna was going to reunite with Brown, the subject switched to whether or not the purported assault was ìprovokedî by Rihanna. The question "what did she do to make him hit her?" is an almost instinctive response ingrained in the fabric of our society, and one that ultimately places the blame on the victim. Unfortunately, the assertion that domestic violence victims somehow "provoke" batterers has been repeatedly used to both justify domestic violence and reduce the culpability of the perpetrator.

And now the conversation has landed in a place that those of us who are advocates around the country hear almost every day: "Why does she stay?" It is not unusual for victims to remain with an abusive partner. For many survivors, it takes several rounds of leaving before they are able to gather the resources, support, and information needed to ultimately end a relationship. We as advocates know that leaving is not always the safest option - victims who leave their partners are just as likely to be re-abused as those who stay with their partners.(1) The focus should not be on whether or not Rihanna stays in the relationship; the focus should be making sure that she knows all of her options and has a safety plan in place in the event that she finds herself further endangered.

That leads us to our question: Who is helping Rihanna? We know that Sean "P. Diddy" Combs provided a space for Brown to reconcile with Rihanna. We understand that Brown and his legal counsel are going into private negotiations concerning his two felony charges in which he is reportedly requesting no jail time. We also hear they are recording a new duet. All of these occurring days after the physical wounds have barely healed upon her face.

So again, we ask, "Who is helping Rihanna?" Where is her time to emotionally heal? To think about what has happened to her? Where is the opportunity for her to just breathe? Does she have an advocate? Does she know that she is entitled to one? Who is helping her determine what is in her own best interest as a survivor?

As advocates in the anti-violence against women movement, we recognize the coercive tactic of the whirlwind that often occurs after battering..."Baby, I'm sorry"; "Let's reconcile"; "Let's show the public you are not harmed"; "Let's fix my reputation"; "Let's keep me out of jail"; "Let's save my career"; "Let's keep you isolated from people who can help you." This is just another extension of the abuse.

As a young woman of color, there is a lot of pressure being placed on Rihanna to serve as a model for others, and she is receiving harsh public warnings from prominent talk show hosts and critics of all races to "leave him". She is also hearing from parents and youth that they are disappointed with Rihanna for "taking him back". This seems to come from a genuine place of wanting to help her, but telling her what to do is not a way to help her, and blaming her for continuing to be involved with Brown takes the attention away from his actions.

Just like any other survivor of domestic and dating violence, Rihanna should have access to people who will hear her out, let her talk through her pain, listen to her reasons for staying with Brown and for possibly leaving, and who have the expertise to assist her in developing a safety plan in case she finds herself in danger again.

We understand now that Rihanna and Brown are reportedly taking a small break though not breaking up. We encourage Rihanna and those surrounding her to reach out to national, state and local organizations equipped to provide information to survivors as they go through the trauma of domestic and dating violence and consider their options in seeking safety and security. We join others in suggesting that Chris Brown seek help beyond anger management because battering is not about anger, it is about power and control. Batterer intervention or re-education is a better choice.

We hope to see Rihanna and Chris Brown get the individual assistance they each need. We also hope that the national dialogue will move to realities and solutions to dating and domestic violence."


Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Update on Chris Brown and Rihanna

There has been much discussion about domestic violence since Chris Brown allegedly attacked Rihanna. Oprah Winfrey, Jay Leno and others have dedicated shows to the topic, and the media frenzy that has surrounded the two celebrities since the incidents shows no signs of slowing.

What happened to Rihanna is unfortunate, but there is a silver lining to the situation which is that people are talking about domestic violence, one of the greatest atrocities affecting women in this country. For the most part, media commentators are condemning Chris Brown for his actions. However, there are still people out there who are willing to blame the victim. Not only is there blame for abuse (i.e. "She made him angry and therefore deserved to be hit) but there is also blame put on her for going back to him after the fact (i.e. "She should know better than to stay with a man who hits her").

First of all - it is never okay to hit someone else. This lesson was true in our kindergarten class rooms and it remains true through our entire adult life. There is never justification for physical abuse. Ever. Never. Ever.

Second - everyone is entitled to their own opinion about how Rihanna should handle her relationship, however it is ultimately up to her to do what she feels is right. There are some things you can do for someone in an abusive relationship (that may also encourage her to leave her abuser when she is ready).

WomensLaw.org Reports will be periodically blogging about this case. Everyone here hopes for a safe outcome for Rihanna.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Tips for Going to Court

Here are a few tips if you are going to court. You can read more tips at WomensLaw.org How to Prepare for Court page.
  • Be on time.
  • Have your witnesses there and ready.
  • Have your evidence ready.
  • If you have subpoenaed witnesses and they are not present, you should inform the judge.
  • Dress neatly.
  • Speak directly to the judge; he or she will understand if you feel nervous.
  • Always address the judge as “Your Honor.”
  • Be prepared to spend all day in court. (There may be hearings before yours.) If you have children, try to find someone to take care of them while you are in court.
  • If your abuser comes to court with a lawyer and you are not represented, ask the judge for a “continuance” so you can look for a lawyer.