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National Domestic Violence Hotline Blog

Chris Brown Guilty Plea

The following entry is written by New York Times best selling author and NDVH Celebrity Board member Leslie Morgan Steiner.

Steiner is the author of Crazy Love, a memoir about domestic violence, and the anthology Mommy Wars.  She writes a weekly column for Mommy Track’d.  To share your story as part of the Crazy Love Project, visit the author’s website at www.lesliemorgansteiner.com.

The Los Angeles County district attorney’s proceedings against musician Chris Brown for his alleged Grammy-eve assault of Robyn R. Fenty, more commonly known as the pop singer Rihanna, ended surprisingly gently last Monday given the five-month media frenzy that has surrounded the couple. Brown pled guilty and was sentenced to five years of probation and 1,400 hours of community service (cnn.com). Rihanna’s silence, however, has baffled and frustrated fans, prosecutors, and advocates within the domestic violence community. The horrific post-assault photo of the 21-year-old’s cut and bruised face, supposedly leaked by the Los Angeles police department, showed bruises across the singer’s face and head. Police statements describe Brown biting Rihanna and repeatedly threatening to kill her (cnn.com).

But Rihanna never called the police. She did not request a restraining order. She did not file a complaint. She did not testify against the man who assaulted her. She has never spoken publicly about the assault.

I understand why Rihanna has been so quiet.

I was sure I loved the man who abused me for four years, a brilliant, troubled Wall Street trader I met on the New York subway a few months after I graduated from Harvard (YouTube.com). The assault that ended our marriage took place nearly 20 years ago, but I too stayed silent because I wanted to protect my abuser, even after I knew he was capable of killing me. I was in shock, terrified, and broken physically and psychologically. Like Rihanna, I wanted the whole ugly mess to be invisible.

We hear a lot about domestic violence’s grim statistics, as we should.  According to The Family Violence Prevention Fund, three women are murdered in this country every day by intimate partners, and over five million women are assaulted each year.  More than 50% of people who abuse their partners also abuse their children.  In the months since Rihanna and Brown dominated the headlines, in my community alone there have been four murders, including two children killed by their father and a 19-year-old girl murdered by her boyfriend.  As a society, we need these numbers as evidence of the terrible cost we pay for tolerating domestic violence in our country and around the world.

What we need even more: to abandon our misguided expectations that it’s up to domestic victims to prosecute their abusers and to speak out publicly about the trauma they’ve suffered.

It is obviously unrealistic to expect batterers to make incriminating confessions. It is equally impractical to require Rihanna or any other battered women, immediately following a vicious assault, to prosecute a lover or family member. It’s bizarre that our society and criminal justice system expect women to do so. Family violence incidents must be investigated and prosecuted by local police and district attorneys – not victims. In order to break the cycle of violence, victims need this kind of aggressive intervention to free us to find our own happy endings.

Like most victims, there was no way I was strong enough to stand up for myself against the person who had seduced, manipulated, and terrorized me for years. The police left without cataloguing my injuries or pressing charges against my husband. Having survived the most brutal attack of my life at the hands of a man I loved, I did not have the ability to absorb what had happened, much less document the evidence and press charges myself. I barely had the courage to file a restraining order; filing charges against my ex-husband was beyond comprehension. Even though he deserved it. Even though I craved protection and justice.

Three years after I left my abusive husband, then-Senator Joseph Biden successfully championed the landmark Violence Against Women Act through Congress.  Nearly $2 billion has been allocated since then to raise awareness of the problems and costs of intimate partner violence, rape and sexual abuse against women; to fund physical, legal and emotional support to victims; and to train police and judicial officers who prosecute offenders. VAWA is up for renewal in 2010, championed by Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont and a plethora of bipartisan supporters and advocates.

I wish police had treated my apartment as a crime scene the last night I was beaten by my ex-husband, documenting the abuse and pressing charges.  Advocates needed to do for me what I could not do for myself. The pursuit of justice would have benefitted me – immediately — and our society over time by taking domestic violence seriously.

And if police had taken a photo, I’d still have it today — as a harsh warning of the dangers of abusive love.

Right in front of that photo, I’d place one of me now –  smiling, surrounded by my second husband and three young children, without bruises or scars to hide.  Another kind of evidence –  that victims can survive domestic violence and go on to rebuild our lives.  All we need is a little help.