How does this happen?

How does it happen that nearly half the young people who participated in a recent survey blamed pop-superstar Rihanna for being beaten savagely by her boyfriend, hip-hop singer Chris Brown? Let's get the specifics straight, to start with. On February 8, Los Angeles cops responded to 911 calls from homeowners who heard a woman screaming. They found Rihanna -- a glamorous 21-year-old beloved for her sunny smile and her music's bouncy beats -- badly bruised, cut and swollen-faced outside a car where 19-year-old Brown had reportedly punched and choked her. She also had bite marks on her arms. During the assault, which began while Rihanna was a passenger in the car Brown was driving -- and allegedly began after she revealed evidence of his infidelity -- he also reportedly threatened to kill her.

In a survey conducted last month by the Boston Public Health Commission among 200 Boston-area boys and girls aged 12 to 19, 51 percent said Chris Brown was responsible for the incident, 46 percent said Rihanna was responsible and 52 percent said both were to blame, according to the Boston Herald, which adds that 52 percent of the kids said the media was treating Brown unfairly; 44 percent said fighting was a normal part of a relationship; and a "significant" number said "Rihanna was destroying Chris Brown's career." As many girls as boys blamed Rihanna.

"Experts say teens may be inclined to be sympathetic to Brown because of his popularity and the 'normalization of violence' in pop culture," the Herald reports.

Does this tell us something awful about "kids today" -- that many have become somehow desensitized to violence, and/or that although we thought thirty years of feminism had taught us never to blame the victim, young people (who, ironically, are among society's most vulnerable) still do? Or was this survey just a fluke?

Talking about celebrities' personal lives is a national sport. Over the last few weeks, fans and the media have been abuzz over the fact that Rihanna welcomed Brown back into her life almost immediately. As any of us know who have either been abused or cared about others who were being abused, this was almost certainly not a wise move. But even if it's a horrendous choice, reconnecting with Brown was her choice. Being beaten by Brown was not. So criticizing Rihanna for staying with her assailant is one thing. Criticizing Rihanna for being assaulted is entirely another. And that's what those hundred or so Boston kids did.

I fear for their partners, now and henceforth. And I fear for those kids themselves.



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