[CN: sexual assault, molestation, domestic violence, criminalization of victims]
To be honest, I never thought I’d write anything about Chris Brown. October is Domestic Violence Awareness month and I had planned to touch on issues regarding domestic violence. So, it’s not entirely out of the realm that I’d mention him at all. However, this is a slightly different take on him and abuse than I had originally considered writing. I do have much more to say on domestic violence and will write two more articles this month on it. This story just happened to come my way this morning and I felt inclined to put my thoughts about it together.
I saw a tweet earlier linking to this article about Chris Brown and saying it was worth reading. I was hesitant, but for whatever reason, I went ahead and read it anyway. I’m glad I did. According to the piece, Brown apparently admitted to “losing his virginity” at age eight. Which, all of us know, is child sexual assault, and not “losing” one’s virginity. The person who assaulted him was a 14-15 year old teenage girl. It seems as if Brown has “owned” this and is making light of it, or at the very least painting it as any other childhood experience, quite matter-of-factly. So to some, this means it wasn’t actually rape and isn’t an issue he’s been dealing with for most of his life. That just isn’t so.
I cannot speak to Chris Brown’s personal experiences or views, but I know I’ve seen similar versions of this story with men in my life. I have a few male friends who were sexually assaulted as young boys, most were middle-school aged (roughly 10-13 years old). They were assaulted by teachers or babysitters or other older women in their lives. To hear them speak of it, most laugh it off. They make jokes about it, look lightly at it, even appear to celebrate it. It wasn’t until a couple of years ago when one of my male friends admitted “that really fucked me up.” It was his teacher who sexually assaulted him after school one day, this continued several times more. He said he was so confused at the time, puberty being one of the most confusing times in our lives, and that he felt proud she “chose” him. It seemed like an achievement, to have had sex at all and to have had sex with an older women. It wasn’t until adulthood, and facing some of the emotional problems in his life, that he finally identified that what happened to him was wrong. In his thirties, after masking the criminal experience of losing his virginity as a rite of passage, he finally was able to label it as abuse and deem is wrong. He was able to come to terms with what that abuse did to him as a young teen, and how it had impacted much of his life.
Society tells us that sex is a never-ending conquest for boys. They are hungry for it, always, with anyone. Well, with any female, let’s not forget society’s rules only celebrate heteronormative sex. Teenage boys are supposed to have sex in cars and sneak into their girlfriends’ rooms at night. They are patted on the back for “doing it” and tallying up the notches on their belt. Of course, the same is not true for teenage girls. They are supposed to remain virgins (so who exactly are these boys having sex with?!). Teenage girls, and women for that matter, are not supposed to be sexual creatures. We can’t dare crave sex or celebrate being sexually active. This set of beliefs feeds into how society treats victims of sexual abuse, both male and female. We are repeatedly told that boys and men cannot “control” their urges and that girls are Jezebels who lead men on and that his why rape happens. If the female victim is a child or teenager, and the abuser an older male, even in those cases society may mention that the student or teen wore short skirts and flirted a lot, the name “Lolita” is thrown around. Society also tells us that boys and men are never victims of rape. Society can bend their beliefs for a moment if a straight boy or man is raped by another man; that plays outside of their heteronormative narrative, and can pass as actual rape by their standards. Though of course such a crime is swiftly hushed, and boys and men are not supposed to continue to talk about their rape. Being a victim of rape calls into question one’s masculinity, and even their heterosexuality. Gay and queer men usually have their rapes dissected like many women do, that is wasn’t really rape and they probably were asking for it. Similarly, when a boy or man is raped by a woman, it isn’t rape according to society. The boy or man should be thankful it happened, another one added to his list of conquests. This very idea was what comedy show writers hoped to get laughs from recently. If a boy or man is sexually assaulted as a virgin, well, he should consider himself lucky to have “learned” from an older women. Few teenage boys will even acknowledge to themselves that they were sexually assaulted by their teacher, their babysitter, or any other older female. They try to shake it off, joke about it, or never speak of it. Either way they deal with it, outside from telling someone they trust and receiving therapy (and perhaps charges against the abuser), will lead to emotional and possibly sexual issues for these boys as they enter adulthood.
A second factor in all of this, and bringing it back to Chris Brown, is that often times a child who is abused will repeat that pattern of behavior. As Tom Hawking states in his article, this fact does not excuse any abuser’s behavior. However it is something we must confront. I can’t speak to whether or not Chris Brown has ever sexually assaulted someone, but it’s clear his childhood experiences played into his violent tendencies. The continued cycle of violence, that a child victim will be further victimized even as an adult or that they will in turn become abusers themselves has been well-documented. I had depression and was suicidal as a teenager, and was inpatient for treatment when I was a sophomore in high school. In a group therapy session, one of the fellow patients said he had been molested and further admitted that he too had abused the boy next door. I was shocked. I felt so terrible for him as he spoke of the abuse he had experienced. Then when he continued on and I listened to his confession, I had such mixed-feelings. This was a teenage boy who I was “friends” with (as much as one can be friends with someone else while receiving psychiatric care), and yet I now find out he sexually assaulted someone. The inner-conflict I experienced has stayed with me.
I’m never quick to assume that someone who commits a crime, any crime, does not have a personal history that impacted their life choices and helped lead them to that criminal act or acts. Abuse begets abuse. We see it in domestic violence and we see it in sexual assaults. Society doesn’t like to talk about this. We’d rather abusers be one-dimensional, just horrible people. We don’t want to feel empathy for them, we fear relating to them on any level. Also, if we can say a criminal is not us, that they are broken, that they are a monster, then we don’t have to deal with that person or the issue(s) at hand. It’s not us. It’s not our neighbors. It’s not our friends. It’s not our family. But the trouble is, it is. The people we come in contact with every day are the very ones who either are abusing or are capable of committing heinous acts. We need to provide the proper support and therapy for victims. We need to recognize that children and teens who are violent have a past that made their criminality likely. We need alternatives to jail for these young people. We need to realize that children who are exposed to violence in their homes need special care. Chris Brown was a victim of sexual assault, whether or not he is ready to deal with that and admit it or not, and he was also a child who witnessed his mother being battered by his stepfather. Again, this doesn’t give him a free pass to anything he has done (nor does it mean I don’t have a right to say what he did was horrible and choose to not support him financially by refusing to buy his records). What it should do however, is shine a light on the very real cycle of violence that exists and how much is lacking in services to end those patterns. Until we have some much-needed discussions on rape culture and domestic violence in this country, and those two are closely tied together, we will see violence toward women continue and victims, male and female, not receive proper treatment to ensure they do not repeat the cycle of abuse and violence.
Note: I have to add that trans* men and women are given even less compassion when reporting a rape, and face harassment at every level. There’s also a separate rule book for a lesbian being raped by another woman or a man and what she will experience in speaking out about her assault. This alone, rape and the LGBTQ community, is too big to tackle here in this piece, but I will definitely provide more insight and discuss it at a later date.