Relationship Violence Made Real

Trigger warning.
Do Something, an organization “using the power of online to get teens to do good stuff offline,” has made a video re-enactment of the Chris Brown/Rhianna conflict as part of their 1 in 3 Campaign (designed to education young people about dating violence). It’s obviously based on the actual police notes from the incident, making it highly realistic and unavoidably horrifying:

While I could understand why some people would be outraged by this bold PSA tactic, I’m completely in support of what Do Something is doing. They’re making the incident–which has been so obscured by the media hype, ignorant commentary from pundits and the public alike, and so much disrespect–real again. A woman, a man, out of control emotions, and inexcusable violence. If Rhianna weren’t already horribly outed by this whole incident, I might feel like it were an invasion of her privacy, but at this point, it’s just so public. It seems like the most respectful thing we can do for Rhianna is make sure that this whole thing inspires young people to get educated about relationship violence–as the ad does.
What do you think?

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  1. MaggieElisabeth
    Posted March 23, 2009 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

    I’m REALLY happy to see this issue addressed, but I didn’t find this particular PSA to be very effective.
    The voice-over was a good touch since it came straight from the police report, but the fight itself appeared too choreographed. By the end of the ad, the actress clearly has not suffered the kind of abuse Rihanna did.
    I think a better tactic might be to use some of the actual comments teenagers have said that defend Chris Brown and other abusers and creatively point out how wrong/awful/misogynistic it is. There’s a great Ad Council PSA that uses a similar technique:
    Anyway, that’s my two cents – I’d love to hear other opinions…

  2. Posted March 23, 2009 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

    I support the effort as well. This video really stayed with me and I found it to be a breath of fresh air in a society that glamorizes domestic abuse.
    It may make some people uncomfortable, but it’s the reality of the situation and people, especially young women, need to see that.

  3. MiddleageLiberal
    Posted March 23, 2009 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

    What do I think? That if there was a wider distribution of the detective notes that we wouldn’t hear so much of the shocking excuse-making by other celebrities and by teenage women (as reported last week). It wasn’t just a single sock in the jaw, emotional reaction to her jumping in his s***, it was an extended assault and battery.

  4. EGhead
    Posted March 23, 2009 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

    I love this. This is what we need to see more of, quite frankly. People need to fucking know what it’s like.

  5. EGhead
    Posted March 23, 2009 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

    I think that would be another great campaign, but a totally different approach to the issue. What they’re doing here is like a direct response to those comments. And I think it’s powerfully hard to argue against.

  6. Allison
    Posted March 23, 2009 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

    “It seems like the most respectful thing we can do for Rhianna is make sure that this whole thing inspires young people to get educated about relationship violence–as the ad does.”
    You’re telling me that two white actors’ reenactment of violence against a WOC is “the most respectful thing we can do”? I’m thinking of a lot of things that PSA represents; “respect” toward Rihanna or her situation is not one of them.

  7. EGhead
    Posted March 23, 2009 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

    This is also a really good point.

  8. Renee
    Posted March 23, 2009 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

    “It seems like the most respectful thing we can do for Rhianna is make sure that this whole thing inspires young people to get educated about relationship violence–as the ad does. “

    I cannot believe that you are coming out in support of this terrible video. Did anyone consider how it might make Rihanna feel to see her assault viciously reenacted? Has she not suffered enough? The fact that her picture has been released does not give us the right to co-opt her experience and re victimize her.
    I would also like to point out that they people portraying Brown and Rihanna are white. How did you conveniently miss that little fact? Are we supposed to find it more sympathetic because a white woman is being beaten?
    This video fails on so many level and I cannot believe that it is being endorsed on a feminist website. Not only is it racist, it re victimizes a woman who suffered a sever beating at the hands of a loved one.
    All of this pain and white privilege all so that people can obtain useless bracelets that have so blended together in our social imagination that no one knows what the hell each individual color means. People will watch the video, order the bracelet and then walk around smug in the belief that they have done something about domestic violence because that is how we like our activism these days, quick, Bono style with appropriate amount of chest thumping rage and no visible or sustainable results.

  9. Lynne C.
    Posted March 23, 2009 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

    *possible trigger warning*
    What really gets me, is that I’ve seen some similar Canadian commercials like this posted on youtube, that depict actors acting out domestic violence (and quite horrifically, and convincingly), and the comments were loaded with “yeah, b*tch deserved it”, “she shouldn’t have spilled his coffee”, or “now she’ll think twice”, etc.
    I am hoping the same thing doesn’t occur with this video.
    I simply don’t understand. How can people make heartless, abusive, comments like this? How can the people who are making these types of comments in response to these types of videos that depict REAL abuse, still think that they have a valid argument? (shakes head)

  10. MaggieElisabeth
    Posted March 23, 2009 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

    The race of the actors stuck out to me as well. I can’t imagine the PSA producers didn’t consider this and I wonder what their rationale was for choosing these actors…

  11. llevinso
    Posted March 23, 2009 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

    What initial assault on Chris Brown? The police report said absolutely nothing about her hitting him first. So please let me know what you’re talking about. Sources would also be appreciated.

  12. llevinso
    Posted March 23, 2009 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

    One of my first thoughts was “Where’s the blood?” When I read the police report it went into detail about how bloody this attack was but this PSA showed none of that. I think it’s hard for people to really see this as that violent if it looks like the girl is not actually physically hurt.
    I have many other problems with this video but that was the first thing I thought, after I wondered why the actors were white that is…

  13. Renee
    Posted March 23, 2009 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

    God more troll like privilege. What the fuck do you mean “God forbid we show a black male being violent?” Do you not own a television set? That is all we ever see. Great way to compound the original racism of the video in question. Tell me does your privilege stick in your throat when you swallow?

  14. demolitionwoman
    Posted March 23, 2009 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

    Honestly, if they really wanted it to be effective, they should’ve showed the awful, bloody, painful reality of it. This looked way too staged.
    And there’s no reason to use the actual police notes from this case – there are thousands of similar cases all the damn time. They could easily have created a composite scene and it would’ve been more realistic and less disrespectful.

  15. jaja
    Posted March 23, 2009 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

    chris and rhianna are black so they get no privacy. that’s how these work in this country. the nation plays off it’s fantasies and experiments on the black masses. there are no shortages of white celebrities to make a cause out of, but somehow they are allowed to go free. (pam anderson, josh brolin, sean penn)
    to find it on this site isn’t at all surprising.

  16. jaja
    Posted March 23, 2009 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

    “where’s the blood”? huh. next we’ll play out of lady’s rape, with blood and all, to get out the message about how bad rape is. that’ll be very effective. who cares how the victim feels

  17. sly
    Posted March 23, 2009 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

    On one hand its odd that they changed the color of the actors–how hard is it to find two black actors to play two black people? On the other hand, if they had not changed the race of the characters then two things: 1) a lot of white teens might dismiss the DV issue as just more “tales from the hood”; and 2) a lot of black people would feel like, once again, they’re painting black people with a broad brush.
    So there’s no “perfect” solution. Net-net, I prefer the method they took. Its an important message that needs to get out…and the unfortunate trade off of being a public star, is not having a private life.

  18. CATB
    Posted March 23, 2009 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

    Would anyone be willing to check out the 1/3 statistic? I don’t have time today, but I’d like to know where it comes from and how accurate it is.
    And please, don’t flame me for questioning an assault statistic. Accuracy of data is important, and that number seems high. I’d like to know what is considered abuse for the purpose of the study, the age range, sample size, etc.
    I’d hunt it down myself if I wasn’t drowning in schoolwork right now :)

  19. hellotwin
    Posted March 23, 2009 at 4:11 pm | Permalink

    First of all, they are granted no privacy because they are celebrities not because they are black. I think that the reason that they chose white actors was so that they did not exactly replicate the Chris Brown/Rihanna incident. I think their intent was to show that it happens to other people, not just young, black celebrities. I’m not sure where the one in three statistic is form either, but it’s be nice to know.

  20. llevinso
    Posted March 23, 2009 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

    Um, I’m a rape survivor and while I think that would be incredibly hard to watch I think it’s important to portray the violence accurately. Rihanna’s mouth filled with blood. Her clothes were soaked in blood. The actress didn’t even end up with a bruise. The way it’s portrayed in the video makes it look like a staged, unreal fight. In my opinion that’s not very effective.

  21. outcrazyophelia
    Posted March 23, 2009 at 4:45 pm | Permalink

    I don’t think this is the most respectful thing that could be done. Just because the media has horribly exposed Rhianna doesn’t make this additional level of exposure okay. I’m really not okay with them taking the detective notes and using them this way, just like I wasn’t okay with tmz taking those images of her injuries and tossing them all over the place. I understand they’re trying to make a point but it seems disingenuous to suggest that there are no other stories out there that victims would be willing to share so they have to co-opt stories that victims don’t necessarily want told by a third party.

  22. jaja
    Posted March 23, 2009 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

    would you like to be able to make the choice whether your rape should be portrayed in a PSA, or someone else should do it for you?

  23. kelseyfro7
    Posted March 23, 2009 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

    I’ll have to agree that while it seems strange that they used young white actors, I am assuming that there would be more of an outrage if they were black, because then it would be “Why does everyone portray blacks as being violent?” While it may not be true, I feel like their choice of white actors was to make sure that no young white teenagers dismiss it as only a black problem, which we all know would happen because no one wants to face the reality that DV happens everywhere.
    I agree that the fight looked very staged and if it is supposed to be based on the actual Rihanna/Chris Brown fight it is not quite accurate enough, but their intentions were good. I agree with demolitionwoman that making a composite of different police notes would have been more respectful, though.

  24. jaja
    Posted March 23, 2009 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

    are they the only celebrities that have been in this sort situation recently? and when does being a celebrity rob one of their right to privacy

  25. Ruchama
    Posted March 23, 2009 at 4:55 pm | Permalink

    I don’t really know much about this site, but it gives links to a few different studies that have found different levels, depending on exactly what they’re asking about and measuring.

  26. Ruchama
    Posted March 23, 2009 at 4:58 pm | Permalink

    The 1 in 3 statistic seems to come from the Bureau of Justice Special Report cited at the bottom of this page:

  27. Ruchama
    Posted March 23, 2009 at 5:08 pm | Permalink

    (OK, actually, I found what looks like that report, and it doesn’t seem to say that. )

  28. MaggieElisabeth
    Posted March 23, 2009 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

    I understand both sides, but I think all llevinso is saying is that if the PSA fight looks fake, it’s easier for people to dismiss the violence or take it less seriously.

  29. outcrazyophelia
    Posted March 23, 2009 at 5:29 pm | Permalink

    The only source he produced is a men’s rights blog. No comment from Chris Brown, the police report or detective’s notes.

  30. LalaReina
    Posted March 23, 2009 at 5:31 pm | Permalink

    I found this video fucking outrageous beyond that I have no words.

  31. LalaReina
    Posted March 23, 2009 at 5:42 pm | Permalink

    You know everybody (including me) I know watched W and no one, nay not one, every made mention of Brolin’s, a grown-ass man, wife beating. They just wished the movie was harsher on Bush. I’m not saying Brolin should be vilified forever but it is amazing on whom the public vitriol gets rallied on. And please tell me why every on winked at a 19 year old having been involved for years with 38 and 40 year old women, wtf!!! If he was a girl their would be a lynch mob.

  32. trex
    Posted March 23, 2009 at 6:16 pm | Permalink

    i think if one looks at this as something that’s not supposed to be a straightforward “re-enactment” but an easier-to-swallow representation and looking at who this ad is addressed to helps with some (but only some) of the issues. the aspect of it being two white teens with the portrayal lacking blood and makeup (besides being a budget consideration for a web-based organization i am assuming is kinda low-budget) will probably help it reach a white middle class teenage girl better than if it were black kids. while there is obviously tons to be said about why that seems to be their target demographic as opposed to black girls or adults and I really really don’t want to say that questions about the casting of white kids to play black ones are at all off-topic, if it’s looked at with realization of its limitations it can have merits. if this goes from being something dismissable to these white girls (who may be more likely to dismiss the rhianna chris brown thing as something that doesn’t happen to them because of the “tales from the ghetto” effect as mentioned above) then well, good. if seeing a girl who looks like them with a boyfriend who looks like theirs hitting the girl and they realize that’s actually happened to them (and they aren’t distracted by a bunch of fake blood) it’s done something. yeah, it’s a sterilized representation but i think one of the problems with the reactions to this rhianna story is that people have very underdeveloped means to deal with complexity and doing the “gentle” version might be the way to get those peeps to even broach the subject.
    there are a thousand things to say about why there isn’t an ad getting our attention that is taliored to teens of color or focused on getting boys and men to think about dv and why this ad chooses to have white teens in it and focus on reaching white teens, but i think the ad does have limited benefital potential.

  33. Alexandr
    Posted March 23, 2009 at 6:48 pm | Permalink

    Oh, aren’t you a martyr.
    More like the moderators have a problem with unsubstantiated, unfactual blathering, no?

  34. LalaReina
    Posted March 23, 2009 at 6:52 pm | Permalink

    And the whole thing is b.s. Okay I’m in their age group. Couples fight. There is not excuse for what happened to Rhi but there are no “hulk-out” moments. Somebody hitting somebody out the blue. You argue, you scream someone hits (and yeah girls hit first a lot)and it gets crazy. Now I was just on a site about the movie “she took my voice” where they say domestic violence in the lesbian community dwarfs that in herto ranks? Is that true? Where the outrage? Where the messages, oh right not PC.

  35. jaja
    Posted March 23, 2009 at 7:06 pm | Permalink

    not only did they not vilify brolin, they even praised him. he’s been on a ton of shows and even featured in O magazine after the beating. but no on will leave these young black folks alone.

  36. Alexandr
    Posted March 23, 2009 at 7:24 pm | Permalink

    Remember that ridiculous “Top 10 Subtle ways to tell her she’s getting fat”-fiasco by
    Someone named “Velvet Acid Christ” has posted these two gems in the comments section on AskMen:
    “My suggestion for all the uppity women is bookmark this page and talk to your therapist about why every little thing upsets you. If your lucky you’ll leave with a prescription of Lithium.”
    “The angry female comments are proof positive we live in a hyper sensitive society. This is why feminists adhere to censorship. If they find something offensive, they want it abolished. The problem is they find everything offensive.”

  37. Julia
    Posted March 23, 2009 at 7:28 pm | Permalink

    I think just reading the police report is scary enough. I think that the visual kind of takes aways from the focus. Either way, very disturbing.

  38. llevinso
    Posted March 23, 2009 at 7:47 pm | Permalink

    You have just now asked a different question that you DID NOT posit in your first response to my post. I do not think it’s okay to use Rihanna’s exact instance without her consent. However, in any PSA type of video they should make it realistic. I think they did not here.

  39. jupiter
    Posted March 23, 2009 at 8:02 pm | Permalink

    The idea itself was good, but the execution could have been improved in a couple of ways.
    First, there could have been multiple scenes, depicting people of different ages, races, orientations and social statuses, to make it clear that such things happen everywhere.
    Second, they could have taken “source material” from other people who had given their permission, to avoid violating anyone’s privacy. I’m sure many domestic violence victims would be glad to share their stories.
    I predict that not only will there be YouTube comments of every ignorant kind we can imagine, but that there will be YouTube video responses of every ignorant kind we can imagine.

  40. llevinso
    Posted March 23, 2009 at 8:20 pm | Permalink

    Oh, so in other words, nothing. Got it.

  41. CATB
    Posted March 23, 2009 at 8:25 pm | Permalink

    Hey, thanks a lot for the data. I’m still sifting through the Department of Justice report- you’re right, the numbers don’t appear to say anything close to 33%. So far, anyway. I’m hoping it’s in there somewhere.
    Well… “hoping” in the sense that I would like movements like this to use accurate statistics. I would definitely rather see 3% than 33% as a domestic abuse statistic!

  42. trex
    Posted March 23, 2009 at 9:04 pm | Permalink

    yeah, if there had been several couples of varied race/sexual orientation it would have really driven home the point that it could happen to anyone – anyone could have been rhianna and chris brown.
    and the privacy thing is something i can’t even get into. dang. i saw one of my co-workers’ communist newspapers using the photos as a call to arms for women and was just grossed out that these people who claim to be so forward thinking were just shameless in using the images that they should have kept away with a ten-foot pole.

  43. Meaghan
    Posted March 23, 2009 at 9:21 pm | Permalink

    I am sure someone addressed this already, but I didn’t want to sift through all 45 comments – did anyone notice the comments on the video on YouTube? The first comment is: “Shame how alot of women prefer bad boy’s instead of nice guys. No girl deserves to be abuse but if she chooses to go out with a rough neck because she feels she can “change” him or because she is looking for adventure..she should not complain.” Yeah, don’t complain if you get the crap kicked out of you. It seems that a lot of the other comments follow this same pattern – something along the lines of it’s all Rihanna’s fault or women love to be abused. How disheartening…

  44. hellotwin
    Posted March 23, 2009 at 10:44 pm | Permalink

    I was responding to a comment about them not having privacy because they’re black…lots of other celebs without privacy who happen to not be black. Let’s face it, in this world, if you’re a celebrity, your stuff gets out for everyone to see. I’m not saying it’s right, that’s just the way it is. I’m sure there are plenty of other crazy things that happen with celebs that we don’t hear about…

  45. dormouse
    Posted March 23, 2009 at 10:58 pm | Permalink

    Just FYI to a bunch of you all, including the original post- It’s spelled “Rihanna.”

  46. Catriona
    Posted March 24, 2009 at 12:21 am | Permalink

    First of all, I think the reason the reason they didn’t use black actors is because they did not want to play to the “black violence” that some ignorant people have. I think either way people are going to complain, and probably have legitamate arguments, but really, if they had used a few different scenarios instead of this specific one, with couples of different races then it would have been more effective and less offensive to those who are looking to have a problem with it.
    Personally, I think we should embrace campaigns like this, and the discussion that is going on at that site between TEENAGERS, which I have not seen ever in my life as a teenager myself, is pretty incredible. Teens who were fans of the artists have been made aware of something terrible, and some have researched further into it. Granted, probably not the majority, but if a few have benefitted from more knowledge on the subject then I think that is a very good thing.
    I do not think that they should use Rihanna’s ordeal, however. There are several cases and they could have used a million different detective notes to coreograph an abusive altercation, and then put in as a disclaimer at the beginning something about the Rihanna and Chris Brown case inspiring them to bring light to this horrible problem. Or something similar to that, that way they aren’t putting more of her awful experience out there for everyone to see.
    But I think a lot of people should be happy that some teens are now talking about it. And people shouldn’t take ignorant youtube comments as what the majority of people or teens think. It is an invisible way to say things to upset people. There are many who are affected by it that don’t post a comment. I know I rarely comment on anything, even here.
    Also, the bracelets are not stupid or useless. I personally like to support causes that I care about, whether that’s a tshirt, bracelet, necklace, you name it. And many teens do as well, and there have been several times when someone has asked me about it, and it has started a conversation. And whether or not it starts a discussion may not be the point. It may be that some people would like to be reminded of something important to them, to keep it in mind and close to their heart while they are out, so that those people who go through this abuse are not forgotten by them. In any case, judging by how many people have requested bracelets from there it shows that the video is doing something to generate some feelings from people, which I find as a relief to some of the things I’ve heard about Rihanna since this news broke.

  47. Catriona
    Posted March 24, 2009 at 12:25 am | Permalink

    I would like to add that I don’t think wearing bracelets does anything to stop domestic violence or anything. But for some it’s a start into being more active and verbose about how they feel about something.

  48. fatima
    Posted March 24, 2009 at 3:31 am | Permalink

    especially young women?
    can you clarify this please?

  49. fatima
    Posted March 24, 2009 at 3:36 am | Permalink

    just because someone hits someone else doesnt necessarily mean they are abusive. so even if rihanna HAD hit him, that doesnt mean she is abusive.
    abuse is a systematic PATTERN of emotional and sometimes physical violence. if rihanna DID hit him, which i dont remember reading for certain anywhere, it was probably out of self defense (from emotional OR physical abuse). in which case, i say, do what you have to do to survive. thats why we are called SURVIVORS.

  50. omphaloskeptic
    Posted March 24, 2009 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

    I should first say that I did not watch the video, in heed of the trigger warning and because I find the description and premise of this video deeply disturbing.
    That said, I want to echo what Renee and others have said about the troubling and problematic co-optation involved in this public reenactment of a survivor’s story without her and without her permission, for a cause that she may or may not endorse. Whether or not this video might be “for a good cause” should not trump survivors’ rights to determine how and/or whether they want their story to be “used.” The so-called ethical imperative to speak publicly (so as to “save” other victims) is all too familiar to many survivors and places an undo burden on survivors to speak out *for the sake of others.*
    While educating young people about relationship violence is an admirable goal and may be a way of demonstrating respect for Rihanna, usurping Rihanna’s personal story for this goal is, in my view, extremely disrespectful. The choice to share one’s story of survival so as to help educate others is a personal one and one that usually carries with it a great deal of physical and emotional costs. Hoisting these costs onto Rihanna, treating survivors as though they have a universal responsibility to save others by speaking out–or asserting that we have the right to use Rihanna’s story simply because it is already out there, already a matter of public knowledge–places the burden of combating violence on survivors themselves and perpetuates the idea that this responsibility automatically trumps the psychic, emotional, and physical tolls and threat to one’s safety that so often come with telling or having one’s story told in public.
    Charging survivors with this imperative both disrespects and undermines survivors’ rights to silence, to self-care, and to making their own decisions about what that self-care should look like. While I am beyond thankful to all those who have shared their stories willingly, I equally respect those who for whatever reason have decided not to. It is not the responsibility of survivors to undergo more suffering in order to end domestic violence, it is the responsibility of *those who commit that violence*. Seeing as Rihanna’s pictures were released without her permission, and presumably she did not choose to have her picture and story plastered everywhere and made the object of public consumption, speculation, and use, like others I am pretty appalled to see Feministing endorsing this video.
    Courtney, could you please say a bit more about how or why the goal of educating young people about relationship violence trumps our responsibility to respect actual trauma survivors by respecting their rights to silence and their individual choices about whether or how to share or “use” their own stories?

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