Vanity Fair and Rihanna’s Domestic Abuse

(TW domestic abuse)

About a week ago, Vanity Fair published an article and interview with Rihanna. In this article, they discussed issued of domestic abuse and Rihanna’s involvement with Chris Brown after the infamous abuse case of 2009. It brought up poignant and significant thoughts from Rihanna, through the immediate to lasting impact, and her choice to get back together with Chris Brown.

After the horrific pictures emerged in 2009 of Rihanna’s badly disfigured face from the attack of her then boyfriend Chris Brown, Rihanna was turned into what she herself labelled a ‘poster girl’ for domestic abuse. She was a wildly successful musician and icon, whose relationship with Chris Brown was well documented due to his parallel fame. The surfacing images shocked the world, showing intimately the graphic and extreme injuries that Rihanna had sustained.

Public opinion was firmly on Rihanna’s side, in the perhaps inappropriately public incident. But it was when Rihanna decided to get back with Chris brown that the tide swiftly changed, coloured by disapproval of how Rihanna was showing other women that it was acceptable to return to an abuser. I myself have friends who said how they were disappointed in Rihanna, and many people chose to forget that behind her ‘bad-girl’ and ‘tough’ image is a vulnerable victim of abuse.

In her returning to Chris Brown suggests not that she is disregarding all victims of domestic abuse, but proved that she was still existing in the cycles of abuse. She was caught up in a domestic abuse case that was played out on the world stage, and never herself advocated as a ‘poster-girl’. This assumed image of Rihanna allowed the world to forget that she was still a victim, returning to her abuser due to various psychological and manipulative abusive destruction of her self-esteem.

In this Vanity Fair article, Rihanna says: ‘I was very protective of him. I felt that people didn’t understand him. Even after …’. She was extremely vulnerable and was there to excuse his actions, which is pathological actions of an abuse victim. It’s hugely reductive to view this situation as if he hits you – leave, when abusers use psychological tactics and manipulation on their victim, paired with not merely a one off violent attack. Rihanna wanted to be ‘the person who’s almost the guardian angel [..] when they’re not strong enough, when they’re not understanding the world.’ Rihanna places herself there to protect her abuser, to explain and excuse his actions – excuses that have been fed to her. Even in a retrospective light, she is clearly the victim of abuse, abuse which she couldn’t escape, yet was condemned by the public and forced to recoil into the familiarity which was her abuser.

The interview highlights her move away from the cycle of abuse, and her realisation that she was worth more than the definitions of her abuser, saying ‘they know you don’t deserve what they’re going to give. And if you put up with it, maybe you are agreeing that you [deserve] this.’ She relised her worth and strength above his actions, and broke away. It’s a comfort that Rihanna was able to escape and move away, but what worries me is the rhetoric of the public – condemning a woman who was still actively a victim.

The rhetoric continues, with comments on various articles of this interview still reading like a disillusioned friend, disappointed with the decision to return to an abusive boyfriend. Rihanna dealt with a hugely difficult situation, and was isolated by the majority of the public in her decision to return to Chris Brown, in the time she needed the most support.

Luckily, Rihanna wasn’t defined by this act and has gone on to bigger and better successes, but the infamy will never fully leave her. She still remains a victim of domestic abuse, and the stigma and understanding needs to be broadened. She branded herself as being ‘punished’ for what had happened, an extension of misogynistic leaning to punish the woman. She was blamed for getting back with Chris Brown, he was never accused of continuing the abuse – but she was branded idiotic.

If Rihanna is the un-elected poster girl of domestic abuse, in 2015 she emerges stronger and recovered, and the completed image of a ‘poster girl’ that people sought for in 2009, but the process takes more than a restraining order. The cycles of abuse she followed shows the simple but destructive patterns of domestic abuse which need to be realised, rather than simply giving up on the victim in their tendency to return to their abuser. Rihanna showcases the issues surrounding the stigma of domestic abuse, she was a victim and needed recognition – not condemnation.

Domestic abuse needs to be understood, with 1 in 4 women experiencing some form of abuse in their lifetime. Support and understanding of the insidious nature of abuse needs to grow, to remove the culture of blame and isolation for the victim, such as with Rihanna. Understanding the nature of abuse and its victims is essential to help end domestic abuse.


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