I was having a conversation about Rihanna and Chris Brown last weekend with a friend -- a highly-educated, centered, aware kind of man -- when he stopped me abruptly from spewing statistics on the number of young women in their teens and early 20s who have been assaulted by a partner.
"Wait!" he said. "What about this whole thing about how she gave him herpes? What about THAT?"
I was floored. Seriously? Are we entertaining this rumor? Are will still talking about some backlash buzz that is being used as justification for why Rihanna was allegedly hit, bitten, and choked to the point of unconsciousness by her boyfriend?
Apparently, the answer is yes.
If you read through the hundreds of comments on the Rihanna-Chris Brown posts here on Shine, you will see the pile-up of defensiveness and rage on the supposed STD that this woman is rumored to have given this man just before he allegedly put his hands on her in anger.
And perhaps, if you have conversations with friends (as I did) or read posts on other blogs (like this to-the-point post on The Frisky and this amazing first-person account by Leslie Morgan Steiner), any discussion about domestic violence will also be halted by this hearsay as well.
If we are going to talk about the supposition that the singer gave her boyfriend herpes or syphilis or whatever the STD gossip mill of the day is churning out, then we need to call it what it is: Blaming the victim.
Blaming the victim is not a new or even radical aspect of domestic violence. In fact, it is a very common occurrence when one partner abuses another. The person being abused is used as a scapegoat, with insignificant details or rumors or even lies spread to justify the assault. It is a tactic used to not only "excuse" the violence but also prevent the victim from taking any kind of legal action, getting counseling, or moving on from the relationship. Because of the shame involved, it is sometimes said to be the second round victimization in an assault.
As this article posted on MTV.com points out, both men and women take part in blaming the victim. In the comments they've sifted through on their site - just as we have here - they've noted a lot of people defended Chris Brown and railed on Rihanna. They also cite National Organization for Women's Kim Gandy and her thirty-year perspective working to end violence against women. Gandy says that blaming the victim has gone on as long as she can remember, and seems to be on the rise among teens over the last decade.
I personally wasn't surprised by the rumors. Appalled, but not surprised. I was a university instructor for several years and one of my areas of research and teaching was ending violence against women. As I taught classes, led groups, and counseled students, I saw this Rihanna rumor in play over and over again. That was the mid-90s and on a college campus, but the message was the same. If a woman in a sorority got abused or raped, then she must have done something to deserve it. And that "something" was very often said to be passing on some kind of STD. Sometimes it was sleeping around, other times it was being "slutty" or drunk or cheating in the relationship. Strangely, sadly, head-shakingly, though, it was often that she had - and shared - some dreadful disease.
In the last few days, Chris Brown has issued an apology and a friend of Rihanna's is reporting that the singer is "appalled" that he says he is sorry but has not admitted any wrong-doing. In turn, both Rihanna's father and Chris Brown's father have released statements. In the meantime, Rihanna's said to be recovering under the radar.
As long as the rumors keep flying, I assume there's bruising that goes far deeper than the wounds on her face. And I hope -- no matter what allegedly happened or didn't happen leading up to that night -- that the rest of us can stop adding insult to injury with unsubstantiated, victim-blaming conversation.
Do you believe the rumors? Or do you believe this is just another attempt to blame Rihanna for Chris Brown's alleged actions?
Read our first two posts on this investigation:
- Age and fame don't excuse Chris Brown or domestic violence
- The Rihanna-Chris Brown saga: Things only get worse
[photo credit: Jason Merritt/Getty Images Entertainment]