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Chris Brown's Grammy performance extremely disturbing

BY WILL MATTESSICH | FEBRUARY 17, 2012 6:30 AM

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Chris Brown should not have performed at the Grammys.

It's not just about him or about Rihanna, it's about the message we send when we quickly "move on" from domestic violence. Domestic violence is a serious crime, and attitudes about domestic violence in a community or nation shape the treatment of women everywhere. The response to Brown's domestic violence is indicative of an extremely disturbing attitude regarding the treatment of women.

Some argue that Brown has suffered enough and that his beating is far enough in the past that even Rihanna has moved on. The truth is, Brown barely suffered from his actions. He was sentenced to 1,400 hours of "community labor" and five years of probation, a small legal price to pay for a felony.

Sure, his music career suffered, and that must have been very difficult for him. He only made $10 million for three years instead of $50 million. He had to wait longer to perform at the Grammys. He had to deal with unfair "gotcha" questions about the fact that he abused Rihanna.

But my issue with the reaction to Brown is not just a strong desire for eye-for-an-eye justice.

He did not just hit Rihanna. He savagely beat her. Pictures released at the time of the incident show the numerous blows Rihanna's face suffered. It wasn't simply a moment of rage that quickly ended with Brown on his knees apologizing and promising never to do it again, it was a sustained assault. He only showed remorse when the music community reacted negatively (I won't use the word "backlash" because the response to the incident was weak.). Even three years later, Brown became self-righteously furious on ABC when asking about the incident to the point of ripping off his shirt and storming out of the building.

It's one thing to tolerate Charlie Sheen's wild partying or Amy Winehouse's drunken brawling, but stepping back and reserving judgment on actions that show the clear opinion that it's just a personality quirk if someone thinks women are second-class citizens who can be brutalized if they disagree with you is disgraceful.

It's the same attitude that allows repeated sexual harassment by professors. It's the same attitude that discourages rape victims on campus from reporting their attackers.

Domestic violence is one of the most underreported crimes in the country, with fewer than one in five physical domestic assaults being reported. The real danger isn't just what happens to public figures such as Rihanna and Brown. It's what happens to young women (and men) in Iowa City, Ames, Cedar Rapids, and Davenport , who don't have the benefit of being music stars whose every move is photographed, when they see that this type of behavior isn't harshly condemned by society.

When family members or partners harass, intimidate, or insult them, what will they think of themselves? Why would anyone report an abuser if they see that violence is accepted? If Brown can exhibit this behavior and experience waves of support from fans and celebrities a few years later, what reaction can local abusers expect from their community?

One disturbing question to consider: What if Rihanna had been white? What if Adele or Taylor Swift had gone to the hospital because Brown assaulted them? Would the Grammys still have welcomed him back to the stage? Would Brown's fans still have tweeted jokingly about letting him beat them?

That's why the calls to "forgive" Brown and "move on" are disturbing. It's not just his actions that are disappointing. It's the public's. There's no excuse for a society with a relaxed attitude on domestic violence.


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