Fans and news watchers across the country, and likely the world, were stunned by the pictures of R&B singer Rihanna's busted and bruised face. Fans of her baby-faced boyfriend Chris Brown were disappointed that the 19-year-old could inflict such hurt - on anyone, let alone a woman. Popular Housewives of Atlanta reality stars Lisa Wu-Hartwell and NeNe Leakes talk about past abusive relationships in the March 2009 issue of Essence magazine. It is hard for anyone who saw the show to imagine any man brave enough to beat up on feisty NeNe or strong-willed Lisa. The stories bring into the day light an issue countless women live with in secret.
According to the Family Violence Prevention Fund, a woman is beaten in the United States every 9 seconds. 540 women and girls every minute. 32,400 grandmothers, mothers, sisters and daughters every hour. 777,600 women who make lasagna, stewed peas, corned beef and cabbage, enchiladas, or arroz con pollo for dinner. Studies show that teen girls are fast becoming a larger portion of the statistics on abuse. The Liz Claiborne Inc. Teen Relationship Survey 2006 reports that 55 percent the participating youngsters said they had done something that compromised their own values in order to please their boyfriend or girlfriend. Alarmingly, 20 percent of the teens admitted to being slapped or pushed by the person they were dating.
While some are appalled that any woman could tolerate such brutal abuse - even once - too many are painfully familiar with abuse and the reason women stay with their abusers. It may be easy for onlookers to speak with disdain and judgment of women who endure abuse, but according to pyschologists, abused women suffer more than cuts, bruises and broken bones. They suffer terrible damage to their psyche; emotional trauma similar to that of war-worn soldiers. In addition, they often face severe financial consequences, the chance of losing their children and threats of death against her and her children. They often suffer low self esteem and invariably succumb to their abuser's remorse and reconciliatory behavior after each episode.
Some news media have reported sources as saying that Rihanna has sported suspicious bruises since she started dating Brown. Wu-Hartwell says she was assaulted in front of friends. Did anyone try to intervene in either case? There are often signs of abuse, even before the first blow lands. Those signs are often more visible to friends and family members - who are not doe-eyed with love or lust. Many of us know someone whose girlfriend throws things or whose husband speaks to them in a tone that makes onlookers uncomfortable. Those kinds of behaviours should not be ignored. They are not benign. They only escalate.
If you suspect someone in your life is being abused step in and step in firmly. Minding your own business is not a good idea. Resist the urge to question the actions of victims. Vilifying a battered woman further victimizes her and supports the abusers position that she deserves the abuse. Instead, support her and offer your help. Expect that you may be turned down, but keep trying.
The Center for Disease Control has a page with resources that could help: http://www.cdc.gov/ViolencePrevention/intimatepartnerviolence/index.html