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When the Justice System Fails: The Case of Rihanna

By March 7, 2009March 9th, 2009News

When I was a junior in college – my ‘year abroad’ was actually spent back home in St. Louis working at a local domestic violence agency. I went through extensive training, taught violence prevention education to middle school and high school students and I worked on the agency’s crisis line.

The training was intense and the prevention work was inspiring and incredible – spurring me on to teach (as I have in various ways ever since). But working the crisis line was terrifying. The reality of the violence and the lives these women were leading were nearly too much for my 20 year old self to bear.

I learned several things:

  • If an abused woman tries to leave her abuser, the likelihood that he will try to kill her raises dramatically – as in, it’s close to a sure bet.
  • Abuse doesn’t happen over night. If someone hit you on the first date, you’d be gone in a flash. It builds slowly through a dedicated process of intimidation, fear, isolation, humiliation and control.
  • The violence escalates. Following the well-documented cycle of violence, it usually starts with mental/emotional abuse and leads to physical abuse, sexual abuse and sometimes murder. Between each act, is a system of apologies and promises, a stealth-like honeymoon phase and a trigger that starts it all over again.
  • As a result, an abused woman needs the support and help of friends, family and the justice system to help her save her life. It is next to impossible for her to do it on her own.
  • This is in no way, shape or form a sign of her weakness, stupidity or inability to function.  It is directly indicative of the power of the abuser and the way that he has stripped her of  anything resembling a self.

The Case of Rhianna


In case you haven’t heard, last week, Chris Brown beat his girlfriend, Rihanna. The details of how he smashed her head into a window, punched her repeatedly, put her in a  headlock until she nearly passed out and bit her over and over again can be found here.

This could be the story of so many couples – but it happens to be the story of a best-selling R&B artist and his girlfriend, the Grammy winner. And so, it’s splashed all over the news.

We get to see the pictures of her face. We get to read the notes from the detectives. We know that Sean ‘Diddy’ ‘Puff Daddy’ Combs or whatever his name is, has decided to play God and bring Chris and Rihanna to his Estate and have them reconcile. We know from Rihanna’s dad that he can’t get a hold of her, her mother can’t get a hold of her, her cell phone number has been changed, her email has been changed – she has all but disappeared.

And we get to hear that Chris Brown went to court on Friday and entered no plea – and was charged with two felonies. But, he was allowed to go free until April. And even with all of the evidence and the police reports and the blood splattered all over the car, there is no restraining order. Chris Brown can get as close to Rihanna as he wants. Though the judge did tell him: “You are not to annoy, harass, molest, threaten or use force or violence against anyone.”

And that should make us all feel better because I’m sure now he won’t hurt her! The judge told him not to, after all. Excuse me while I vomit.

Chris’s lawyer said there will be no restraining order because “Miss Fenty [Rihanna] does not request such an order.” Uh huh. Maybe because she’s being threatened with her life if she does such a thing and she’s surrounded by egotistical R&B ‘kings’ who won’t let her talk to her family.

These two singers are in the spotlight – kids idolize them and they are watching this story unfold.

I’m sick. I’m sick that this happens every day to ‘everywoman’ – the nameless, faceless women that deal with domestic violence and abuse. I’m sicker that this is happening, more or less, in broad daylight, and no one is doing anything to help this woman. I’m about to hop a plane to Miami and rescue Rihanna myself – and I have no clout, no money and no power. All I do have is a voice and an audience via this blog and social media – so here I am.

Come on OPRAH. Come on Katie Couric. Come on Tori Amos (founder of RAINN). Come on Queen Latiffah. Come on Michelle Obama. Come on elected female federal officials. WHERE ARE YOU? Make a fuss. Help this woman and let your voice help all women.

UPDATE: Okay, Oprah said something – but not enough. And who ever the guy is on her show says that Chris Brown better be careful because he could have killed her. Are you kidding? HE should be careful? Why is anyone worried about him saving his reputation or his career – this is a woman’s LIFE we’re talking about. Gross.

It is never okay to be hit, raped, abused or treated badly by anyone. If you are in this situation, please call 1.800.799.SAFE (7233) to get help.

Yes, the majority of references to the facts come from Perez Hilton. And, yes, he is an un-apologetic gossip Queen. He is also as pissed about this situation as I am. And with millions of visitors to his site everyday, he is, in fact, careful about checking out sources before publishing. I’ve been un-apologetically reading his site for a long time, and I’ve got to say, his ‘gossip’ pretty much always turns out to be true – and when it doesn’t, he says so. Thank you, Perez for letting millions of people know how horrid this situation this is.

Join the discussion 19 Comments

  • Karen Otto says:

    Just appalling! and to think our youth think this is “normal” behavior in some respects – heck if P.Diddy is helping them work it out then all must be right in the world.

    Thank you for speaking out and I’ve sent this link on to some others who are taking this subject to our local youth in an upcoming production at the Dallas Chilren’s Theatre in April called “dont u luv me?” by Linda Daugherty.

  • Wow. I usually don’t pay attention to celebrity news, but this is bad.

  • Greg Wolf says:

    A restraining order has as much power as the judge’s instructions: “You are not to annoy, harass, molest, threaten or use force or violence against anyone.” They don’t stop the abusers. They are just another charge to be added after something horrible happens. These jerks should be treated just like child molesters. You are right about this being an everyday occurrence for less high profile women and children. As was stated in the article, people who have a public forum need to take action. These need not only be women.

  • Sandra Foyt says:

    It’s great that you’re speaking up for this and other women who are victims of abuse. I wish that there was more that could be done to empower and protect these women.

  • This is currently happening to my daughter, a smart, proactive and caring person. My grand kids are in danger, my daughter is in danger and the local shelter has been less than helpful.

    I thought that the level of awareness has gotten better in the past 20 years, but obviously, it hasn’t risen to the point where women and children are safe.

    Thank you for your post.

    Following your tweets – uucamper

  • Michele says:


    This hits home. I’m a survivor of domestic violence. Yes, I know why they (we) go back. I also know extremely well what happens once we do… I’m no longer in that situation, but I barely escaped with my life and it’s taken years of hard work, dedication, surgery, and lots of support to rebuild my life.

    I knew in my heart she’d go back. I was hoping she wouldn’t. When will it end?

    Thank you for writing this with such passion, for caring with such heart.

    And, Caroline, I’m so sorry about your daughter and grandchildren. My prayers are with them.


  • Anne Mayhew says:

    Wow. What a powerful post. I’m going to share it with as many people as possible….let’s help make a change!

  • Dale says:

    Did i read that they are authoring a book? What the heck? Even in todays micorwave society i don’t understand WHAT they could have to say about this 3 week old incident that would benefit anyone. Enablers for cash should be held responsible.

    Wonderful article

  • Shauna says:

    This just makes me sick and breaks my heart.

    Great post.

  • Julie Roads says:

    Greg – you are totally right. I shouldn’t have just called out specific women to do something – and seriously, that list could be 100 miles long. I feel that there are so many people that have a voice and that nation’s attention that could make a difference here.

  • Julie Roads says:

    Hi Caroline, my Twitter friend, I’m so sorry this is happening to your daughter right now. And sicker still, right along with you, that we are not more advanced as a society in our prevention and intervention strategies. Absolutely sending love and strength your way.

  • Julie Roads says:

    Michele – thank you for sharing your story with us. My heart goes out to you, and I hope you knew that I’m just swollen with pride for your strength and success in escape and carrying on.

    Your sharing here helps the cause – because you put a real face to the problem. It no longer ‘happens to other people’ when one of our own speaks out.

    With gratitude,

  • Michele says:

    I hadn’t thought of you just calling out to women, Julie, but I guess I can see why you did. We women need to take a stand against this–once and for all, eh? But men should, too. Good men should lead the fight.

    I’m so glad you wrote about this!

  • Michele says:

    We must have been commenting at the same time, Julie! LOL

    But seriously, thank you. I appreciate your kind words of support and encouragement. You’ve truly touched my heart.

    Survivors and victims are real faces. We’re your cousins, your daughters, your sisters, your mothers, your friends.

    I read somewhere that judges, doctors, lawyers–women we view as strong and wise authorities in their field–are victims of domestic violence. They have successful careers, top-notch educations, and yet they go home to physical and emotional abuse each and every time they leave work.

    They could buy their own home, support themselves, and have a fantabulous life, but they stay. They stay… This breaks my heart.

    You know, I had been beaten in the head so many times I had problems with my memory, with counting, and forget grammar rules! But I had support and I had a determination to take back my life. Like I said, it’s taken years, and I’m still working on all areas of my life. There are still bad days. On those days, I thank God for positive feedback via emails, comments, social media… ;-)

  • Thank you for your comments on my blog post, Julie. This is so important to call out. Where is the outrage whether it happens in Motown or Downtown Main Street USA? I don’t understand and I’m mad as hell about it.

  • This makes me sick. He should be in jail for attempted murder.

    Once you do this to somebody you should lose your rights to associate with them. Clearly, like so many others, she’s been a bit brainwashed and is suffering from Stockholm syndrome. She can’t make a good decision right now and should be forced to stay apart from him until her decultification process is complete whether she wants to see him or not.

  • Great post Julie and I think it’s also important bring up psychological abusers that are out there. The damage they inflict does not result in cuts and bruises, but can ruin lives all the same. My friend’s cousin just couldn’t leave her psychologically abusing husband and killed herself as the only way out. She left a 1 year old behind.

    Somehow this has to stop. Someone needs to speak up for the women that can’t speak up for themselves. We should dedicate a day of blogging to this topic.

  • I’m just as upset and appalled about this situation as you are. But one of the things that I have learned through out my time of dealing with women is that you can’t help them unless they want to be helped. I have had women fight me and call me names because they were in similar situations and I was offering what i perceived as help. As hard as it is, I have learned to let them know I am hear if you need me and leave it at that. It is the one person that doesn’t judge you or force you to do something you don’t want to do even when you know it’s right that will be reached out to. Everyone else will be cut off and when things get really bad you are afraid to reach out in fear of hearing I told you so.

  • Sarah says:

    Having been through a similar situation, I think one of the most important points to make to those who love the victim is to tred lightly. What you think of as being supportive can sound a lot like disapproval to someone who is caught in cycle.

    There are more victims than the ones being abused by the batterer. The close friends and family of the battered -and even those of the batterer- are suffering as well and they need support and guidance through the ordeal as well. It is a problem with multiple victims.

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