To the teens and tweens who idolized them, Rihanna and Chris Brown looked like the perfect couple. But the pop singer and R&B star had a darker side to their relationship, which surfaced the night of the 2008 Grammy Awards when the couple went missing at event. The reason? Accusations of domestic violence and partner abuse, with Brown allegedly beating Rihanna and latter charged with assault. The case opened up a national dialogue on teen dating abuse (Brown was 19 at the time) and partner violence, and why so many women stay with their abusers.
When 19-year-old Chris Brown was charged with assaulting 20-year-old Rihanna in early February 2009, the celebrity couple proved that dating abuse is an equal-opportunity victimizer. You can never be too rich, too thin, too gorgeous, too famous, or too fabulous (at least in the eyes of the public) to avoid partner violence. And looking at photos of Rihanna's split lip, bloody nose, and bite marks on her body, it's hard to understand how Brown -- her boyfriend of the past year -- could do this and still be adored by the many female fans on the internet breathlessly blogging how it's all Rihanna's fault.
On Oprah's domestic violence show, sandwiched between the stories of teens who were victims of dating abuse -- and statistics of how many teens are abused by boyfriends/partners each year -- was the sad truth that Chris Brown witnessed his own mother's abuse..and vowed never to do that to another woman in his lifetime.
Adults may be surprised to hear how many teens think Rihanna is at fault and "deserved" the abuse, and how widespread a phenomenon teen dating violence is. The sad fact is that a majority of teens surveyed believed Rihanna was at least partially to blame for her abuse. Another crucial statistic -- over 50% of high school students report domestic violence among their peers.
With the taint of the assault negatively impacting his career and his endorsements, Brown pleaded not guilty in a court appearance on April 6, 2009, gambling on the idea that a trial will clear his name. The risk? If the case goes to court and he's found guilty, he could serve up to five years in jail.
On June 22, 2009, Chris Brown agreed to a plea deal which requires the equivalent of 180 days of community service, a year of domestic abuse counseling, and 5 years' probation -- a sentence that many feel doesn't reflect the seriousness of the charges against him, and sends a message that violence against women doesn't warrant jail time.
A rumored appearance by Chris Brown on the Larry King Show on August 5, 2009, didn't happen. Instead, the closest thing to an apology offered by Brown was a taped video clip released through TMZ. Brown's unwillingness to 'apologize' in a live interview -- which might have included questions about the violence of his acts -- suggested that he may have been more interested in polishing his tarnished image than taking full responsibility for the abuse of Rihanna.
Brown was sentenced to five years' probation and community labor by a Los Angeles judge on August 25, 2009. Judge Patricia Schnegg emphasized that she wanted to see Brown perform physical labor, not mentor young people through community service. And she added that if he comes within 100 yards of her and breaks the terms of his sentence, he could be sent to state prison.
Flanked by his attorney and his mother, Chris Brown finally went on Larry King's television show on CNN to discuss the assault. When asked about the specifics, Brown refused to discuss the details out of 'respect' for Rihanna, and said that he didn't remember hitting her. Described by some as 'emotionless,' Brown did not enhance his image, and websites from MTV to Gawker came down hard on the once-popular R&B singer, as did domestic violence and women's advocacy organizations.