Violence Against Women and Forgiveness
“In the U.S., a woman is beaten by her partner every 9 seconds.” This was the subject line of an email announcing tonight’s Take Back the Night rally at Seton Hall Law School to raise awareness and protest violence against women. Although I have seen the statistic many times and I cover domestic violence in my Family Law course, I am still shocked by the prevalence of domestic abuse. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, one-third of all female murder victims are killed by an intimate partner and the proportion of female murder victims killed by an intimate partner has been increasing in recent years.
As shocking and disturbing as these statistics are, I am actually more surprised by number of teenage girls who do not see domestic abuse for what it is—a crime. I am referring to (you guessed it) R & B singer Chris Brown’s attack on his girlfriend, pop star Rihanna. According to court documents, Brown shoved Rihanna’s head against a car window, then punched, bit, and choked her nearly to the point of unconsciousness. He also threatened to kill her. Although Brown has been charged with two felonies—assault and criminal threats—46% of teenagers in a recent survey said that Rihanna was responsible for the attack and 52% said that they were both responsible. Why do so many teens blame the victim?
Almost as disturbing were commentaries that teenage girls’ reactions to the attack were the result of forgiveness. According to some experts on adolescents, some girls had forgiven Brown, felt bad for him because his own mother had been the victim of domestic violence, and did not want to judge him. To me, it sounds like they are excusing Brown’s behavior. That is not forgiveness. In the last twenty years, researchers in different disciplines have explored the meaning of forgiveness. Although they may disagree on when forgiveness is desirable and whether individuals can be taught to forgive, they all agree that forgiveness does not mean condoning or excusing the wrongful behavior. Indeed, forgiveness requires recognition that one was unjustly injured. As the philosopher Joanna North has stated, forgiveness does not “wipe out the fact of wrong having been done.” Furthermore, forgiveness and justice are not mutually exclusive. In other words, one can forgive and still demand that the wrongdoer be punished for his criminal acts.
Today, tomorrow, and throughout the month of April (Sexual Assault Awareness Month), October (Domestic Violence Awareness Month), and the rest of the year, universities across the nation and worldwide will hold Take Back the Night rallies to raise awareness of violence against women. I hope organizers bring their message to high schools around the country. They need it.