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.

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8 Responses

  1. A.W. says:

    Hey, i take violence against women seriously, but that “every 9 seconds” smells of the kind of bull that organizations feed us all the time to create extra urgency.

    It doesn’t pass the smell test.

  2. I am happy to say my teenager pulled down all her Chris Brown posters off her walls and took off his songs on her Ipod.. She did it on her own. There is never an acceptable excuse for abuse!

  3. A.W. says:


    *high five*

    I wish there were more parents like you.

  4. Lia says:

    I think the issue here may be that contemporary teenagers find themselves in a sort of paradoxical gender-sex dynamic.

    According to this dynamic, the genders are functionally equivalent. Males and females work in the same professions, they go to the same schools, and they contribute to society as thinkers and as agents. Both are valued as active societal participants. They are equal, despite indoctrinated differences in taste and demeanor.

    At the same time, this dynamic acknowledges biological realities. Most liberal- minded young people acknowledge the sex-specific privacy concerns regarding pregnancy. They also acknowledge that men, for the most part, are notably bigger and physically stronger than women.

    In turn, our society presents genders as equal and sexes as unequal (clearly this makes sense). In a situation like domestic violence, the relationship between equal genders and unequal sexes may complicate young people’s ability to judge the violent situation. Their understanding of the power dynamic pulls them toward two different judgments.

    An egalitarian perspective on gender suggests that males and females are equally capable. Males can be victimized; they can be sensitive and emotional. Females can be resilient and powerful. These new lessons about gender complicate the basic idea that men are bigger and stronger than women and thus should not physically hurt women. These gender lessons introduce male-gender vulnerabilities and female-gender strengths; and in turn may cause teenagers to look past the sex-based issue surrounding the violence (i.e. big man hitting small woman) and assess the other factors affecting the violent situation (e.g. instigation).

    Perhaps, these new gender scripts are functionally equating domestic violence with the classic male fist fight where one male is bigger and stronger than the other. I wonder how teenagers today would attribute blame in a situation where one male beats up a smaller male. They would probably look for instigation—which seems to be what the teenagers were looking for in evaluating the Rihanna-Chris Brown scenario. Furthermore, I wonder if the specific gender-based power dynamic between Rihanna and Chris Brown affected the teenagers’ judgments. Here, Rhiana is clearly the bigger star. She seems to be more successful and acclaimed in her field. She exemplifies the collapse of male gender supremacy. Perhaps, the teenagers would have been more disgusted with Brown (as the physical dominant party) had he also had more social clout or gender-based dominance.

    I don’t know how to reconcile these issues; other than to teach and remind young people of the distinction between gender and sex. Sex-based realities are important and need not compromise gender-based equality.

  5. A.W. says:


    Its nothing more than the age old ignoring of domestic violence. There’s nothing new about it, so there is no need to talk about the conflict between gender equality and sex difference.

    As for why this seems a little more resurgent today, I would say that the rise in the gangsta rap culture has more to do with it that your philosophical explanation. When children are fed a daily diet of women being bitches and ho’s, what do you expect them to think?

    And in this case, i expect a little bit of celebrity worship, along with the common conspiracy theories that swirl around whenever an affluent african american is accused of a crime, and the fact that the woman is going back to him, all combine to give the kids a distinctively wrongheaded impression of the whole thing.

    What to do? Education, I suppose. And the LA DA needs to charge and convict brown, to send the message that even if she goes back to her abuser, it isn’t right.

    And I will say something else. Women need to be taught not to hit, either. Everyone needs to understand that a romantic relationship is a “no hitting” zone, however crazy the other person makes you.

  6. Colin C says:

    A.W., 3.5 mil beatings a year. Sounds very possible.

  7. A.W. says:

    Colin, seriously, according to whom?

    One underreported phenomenon is the over reporting of this sort of thing. For instance the claim that wife abuse went up 40% during the superbowl–complete crap. So you have to trust but verify with this sort of thing.

  8. Colin C says:

    A.W.: To me, of course. You don’t like the figure, right? You prove it’s wrong.