Singer Rihanna has opened up to Vanity Fair about being a 'poster girl' for domestic violence, after being assaulted by her boyfriend Chris Brown in 2009. Women's Aid chief Polly Neate applauds her.
We were confronted with the truth: that nobody, not even a rich, beautiful, talented superstar, is immune to domestic abuse.
It’s what she’s just told Vanity Fair magazine that she learnt herself - in her own words, that "the victim gets punished over and over".
Indeed she does. Blamed and then punished. Why did she stay? Why did she go back? How could she be so stupid?
In Rihanna's case, she was punished not only for being a victim of domestic violence and then for returning to the perpetrator (she and Brown initially got back together), but also for being famous – as the incident was mentioned and imbued with meaning again and again by commentators.
So it’s with some bravery that she’s spoken to Vanity Fair. It will genuinely help elevate the debate around domestic violence and will help women all over the world.
“I just never understood that, like how the victim gets punished over and over. It’s in the past, and I don’t want to say ‘Get over it,’ because it’s a very serious thing that is still relevant; it’s still real,” she said.
“A lot of women, a lot of young girls, are still going through it. A lot of young boys too. It’s not a subject to sweep under the rug, so I can’t just dismiss it like it wasn’t anything, or I don’t take it seriously.
“But, for me, and anyone who’s been a victim of domestic abuse, nobody wants to even remember it. Nobody even wants to admit it. So to talk about it and say it once, much less 200 times, is like … I have to be punished for it? It didn’t sit well with me.”
Rihanna should be commended for her honesty, her courage and the considerable insight she has shown. She is not, as she said, a “poster girl” for domestic abuse. She has survived it.
At the heart of Rihanna’s latest comments lies the issue of choice. Domestic violence is a choice that men make about the power and privilege they assume, and the way they use it. Yet so often it is framed as a choice the victim makes: that she chooses violence by not leaving, by falling in love, by giving him a second chance, by not wanting to be on her own.
This is internalised by women: as Rihanna said, she thought she could be Brown’s “guardian angel”. She felt it was her responsibility to fix him – a responsibility that every victim of domestic abuse is told by the world must be hers to bear.
Excuses are always made for men’s violence. We saw it with Chris Brown. We saw it with Floyd Mayweather. How can women ever move on from abusive men in a culture that tells them the man is not really, truly at fault? How will we change men's behaviour if we refuse to hold them accountable?
We blame women for staying or returning, when they are surrounded by a culture that defines their happiness as dependent on being part of a relationship, pities them when they are single, demands - and gets - huge sacrifices from mothers.
For celebrities this is magnified many times. Every action is scrutinised and becomes grist to the mill that continuously grinds out the expectations that frame ordinary women's lives.
"I was that girl, the girl who felt that as much pain as this relationship is, maybe some people are built stronger than others. Maybe I'm one of those people built to handle s**t like this," the singer admitted, adding that it was her ‘willingness’ to accept Brown’s behaviour that eventually made her realise he’d never truly respect her.
Rihanna is under no obligation to react to the abuse she suffered in any particular way. And in welcoming the way she has now spoken out, I make no suggestion that she ‘should’ have done so. But I'm very glad she did.
Victim blaming is lethally dangerous. It stops women from seeking help, it clouds professional judgements, it excuses perpetrators, it encourages the cycle of abuse.
Rihanna, I applaud you.
1:08PM BST 07 Oct 2015