Age and fame don't excuse Chris Brown or domestic violence

As more news about R&B performer Chris Brown's alleged assault on singer Rihanna wound it's way from Web to television to papers this morning, I was listening to a talk show where E! reporter Giuliana Rancic dialed in with an opinion on the incident.

In my city, Giuliana Rancic has some connections that give her the kind of cred morning drive deejays adore. She's married to Chicago's own Bill Rancic and she covers the red carpet events we crave. This morning, I was appalled to hear her veer off from dresses and performances into a monologue on what might explain the reports of Brown bruising and biting a woman assumed to be his (let's hope former) girlfriend.

Rancic told listeners that a friend of hers saw 19-year old Brown and 20-year old Rihanna at a pre-Grammy party thrown by Clive Davis and that they seemed "like the cutest couple EVER." She went on to refer to her BlackBerry full of emails about the felony charges filed against Brown, his release on $50,000 bail, and his impounded rental Lamborghini. Worse than the BlackBerried updates, was Rancic spouting off misogynistic insights as to how and why this kind of thing might happen. Although she threw in that domestic abuse is "totally inexcusable" she continued on to add that we have to consider the couples' ages and level of fame, too.

Here's what Rancic said (for the full podcast of her interview, click here):

"It's like, what? It's so sad. At the same time you go...you know, everyone on the red carpet was saying that like, 'What's going on? They're the biggest stars, 19 and 20.' And I go, 'Yeah, but you know what? They're 19 and 20. You know, of course that's no excuse. Domestic violence happens at any age BUT sometimes...we always foget these people are KIDS. So they caught up, everything. Chris Brown, when I first met him on the Grammy red carpet, the first time he did it he was sixteen years old! I mean, the guy has been thrown so much fame so fast. And once again, it makes it totally inexcusable BUT these people do live kind of such different...such a different world than we do, you know. It's very bizarre."

As the case quickly unfolds - now with a witness, with information surfacing about Brown's family history of violence and his aggressive reaction to it, and with several publications reporting that the vicitm and 911 caller was indeed Rihanna (rather than just projections it could have been her) - it's critical we put a halt to inane comments like the ones Giulana Rancic made so we can talk about the reality of partner abuse for women. Especially for young women. And even for young, famous, savvy, confident women.

What Rancic's done here, and what happens all too often, is that the attention is diverted to the alleged abuser to understand why, maybe even offer up reasoning such as (wahhh) he's gotten too famous too young. Rihanna, a very young woman who is said to have bite marks and facial bruises, is pushed out of the picture. I'm not saying we should put a spotlight on a woman who has been assaulted, especially during the acute time period where the police and press and healing are already crowding the room. What I am saying is that Rancic, and others who will inevitably have similar comments, should just stop the sentence at "It's totally inexcusable."

Let's shift the focus back to what's really important here.

First, Chris Brown allegedly assaulted a woman. While there are certainly men who are the victims of domestic violence, 85% of those abused by an intimate partner are women.

Second, Chris Brown allegedly assaulted a young woman. Women aged 16 to 24 are the highest risk group for being abused by a partner. Age is not an excuse or validation, it is a serious, documented risk factor. It's critical we teach both boys and girls at an early age how to be in a healthy relationship, whether it is a date to prom or down the aisle, and how to get out of the unhealthy relationships.

Third, Chris Brown allegedly assaulted a young, famous woman. Although it might seem like a removed issue to many people, some studies have shown that as many as one in three women have been physically assaulted at least once in her lifetime. Having hit records, endorsement deals, and being a red carpet wonder doesn't make a woman exempt.

Fourth, Chris Brown allegedly assaulted a young, famous woman who called 911. The number of women who report incidences of domestic violence is on the rise, it's estimated almost half still go unreported. Rihanna's confidence, life skills, or any other characteristic aren't the issue if an abuser strikes. She coped the way we hope all women in a threatening, violent situation will -- by calling for support, help, and a way out.

Fifth, Chris Brown allegedly assaulted a young, famous woman who called 911 and then opted out of a major event for the people in her industry. Clearly, it's understandable that Rihanna would not attend the Grammy's given the events of Saturday night. In fact, 50 - 85% of women who've been assaulted miss work because of the abuse they've suffered. Rihanna's job is televised while your job might just be supervised. Regardless of whether the world is watching or your co-workers are taking note, abuse impacts women's professional endeavors as well as many other aspects of their lives.

Sixth, Chris Brown allegedly assaulted a young, famous woman who called 911, sought medical treatment at a hospital, and then opted out of the Grammy's. Chris Brown was booked for criminal charges rather than domestic abuse because the victim had "visible injuries." Fox News is reporting that Brown did not appear to have any injuries himself. They're also saying that criminal threat charges can carry a nine year prison sentence while domestic abuse charges only heed four years. That's a good place for us to funnel our questions and conversation, don't you think?

I'm hoping Giuliana Rancic sticks to the fashion analysis and snagging sound bites from country bands rather than go on any more about what's happened with Rihanna and Chris Brown.

And what's happened is sad and outrageous and yes, inexcusable. What part of it do we really need to discuss? And what should we leave out of the conversation?


[photo credit: Scott Gries/Getty Images Entertainment]