I remember once being at the Bonteheuwel train station and hearing two women talk about violence. I can’t remember what the one woman’s exact words were to the other, but she said something along the lines of: she’d rather be single, than, to be someone’s punching bag, to have a man tell her he loves her and then beat her up whenever she doesn’t cook for him.
I don’t remember much of else from that conversation, but those words stuck with me. Who was she talking about? I looked at her, trying to get an idea of what kind of woman she is, because I admired the strength I could sense in her at that moment. She’d clearly thought about this and decided that she was going to try and escape the violence – domestic violence, to be more specific.
Not too long after hearing her saying that, though, I had another thought, followed by many questions. What if she got into another relationship after the abusive one and then became the physical abuser to her new partner? Would knowing that she’d been abused in the past make her behaviour towards her new parter more understandable, or okay, even? Taking it a step further, what about the people who’d defend her for becoming violent to her new partner? Would they be wrong for saying that her history of being abused has made her that way?
I never really found answers to those questions at the time. And soon the questions disappeared altogether from my mind. Until now.
Chris Brown released a documentary called “Welcome to my Life”. In it, he talks about one of the most famous cases of violence in recent memory – the night he beat Rihanna bloody. Naturally, he says he’s sorry for beating her up like that. He says Rihanna thought he was cheating on her so she lost her temper and started hitting him while they were in the car together, with him driving. He reacted to this attack by biting and, then, repeatedly punching her in the face.
But, of course, being Chris Brown and turning the assault on Rihanna into a documentary, there has to be more to the story. He does more than just explaining what happened that night, and show deeply remorse; he goes a step further and also talks about his childhood. He tells us about how he used to watch his mother getting beaten up by one of the men in her life at the time. He says he used to be scared of the guy that beat her up. He used to think the guy was a monster who had come to hurt him and his mother.
He then connects what happened to his mother to what he did to Rihanna. He says he felt like the monster that he felt his mother’s abuser was.
Not surprisingly, this latest chapter in Chris Brown’s life brought all those questions back that I had when I heard those two women chat at the Bonteheuwel station. Does the fact that Chris witnessed his mother being beaten up when he was a child excuse his behaviour as an adult? Did witnessing that violence make him think that it was okay to beat women or anyone else, for that matter?
In trying to answer these questions, I can tell you one thing: I’m not an expert on what happens in the brain. Chris could be traumatized. The abuse he witnessed could’ve left very deep or maybe even permanent scars. I believe that people can, for example, have genuine anger issues that need treatment. In such cases, it’s the responsibility of that person and the people in their life to encourage them to get the help they need.
But one thing I believe above everything else is that no one deserves to suffer at the hands of a violent person. And even though I don’t really know what happened in the car that night between Rihanna and Chris, I still think he should’ve stopped the car and tried his best to calm her down, to convince her that he wasn’t cheating.
I think we just have to look at what’s happening in South Africa to try to get answers to the Chris issue. Violence is everywhere in this country. Violent people punch, shoot and stab their way onto the headlines of newspapers, magazines and TV news. And it’s usually women and children that have to suffer. It’s usually women and children that have to run to police stations to get protection orders against their abusers, and a lot of the time, those protection orders aren’t even enough to stop the violence.
So, I ask myself, then, what would happen if we started excusing the abusers, and ignoring the cries of the victims? What would happen if we started saying we shouldn’t be angry at the abusers because they were abused as children? Wouldn’t the women and children, and anyone else who has suffered at the hands of such violence rise up against us? The country would be in even more trouble, wouldn’t it?
Maybe that’s really where the answer lies, then: find a way to punish the abusers, while also helping them treat any issues they have. So use the law, maybe, to punish the abusers, but never forget that the abusers themselves may have been victims of abuse at some stage. Help the abusers deal with their trauma, but never ever go easy on them and disrespect the people they’ve abused. There’s no easy answer, I know. But understanding why someone does something doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t hold them accountable for what they do to others..
Tell us: Should we go easy on abusers who have suffered abuse themselves?