Chris Brown

Chris Brown’s latest revelation is about rape, which is not “vaguely traumatic”

Chris BrownI loathe to talk about Chris Brown, but if the most recent story about him is going to be a story it’s important that we discuss it correctly. What Brown describes in his interview with the Guardian is rape. There is no escaping that. Look at the words on the page:

He lost his virginity when he was eight years old, to a local girl who was 14 or 15. Seriously? “Yeah, really. Uh-huh.” He grins and chuckles. “It’s different in the country.” Brown grew up with a great gang of boy cousins, and they watched so much porn that he was raring to go. “By that point, we were already kind of like hot to trot, you know what I’m saying? Like, girls, we weren’t afraid to talk to them; I wasn’t afraid. So, at eight, being able to do it, it kind of preps you for the long run, so you can be a beast at it. You can be the best at it.” (Now 24, he doesn’t want to say how many women he’s slept with: “But you know how Prince had a lot of girls back in the day? Prince was, like, the guy. I’m just that, today. But most women won’t have any complaints if they’ve been with me. They can’t really complain. It’s all good.”)

That is an assault. An eight year-old can not engage in consensual sex with a 14 year-old. Gender is irrelevant. It is not, as Jezebel writer Doug Barry put it, a “vaguely traumatic incident from his childhood.” This is rape.

What gets Barry’s ire is that Brown seems to be bragging about “losing his virginity” at eight the way men often brag about their sexual “conquests.” In some respect, he isn’t wrong. Brown does seem proud of this fact. What Barry neglects to address is why Brown may feel pride about an assault instead of naming it as such.

I understand not wanting to feel sympathy for Chris Brown, as his actions have become a go-to example of gendered violence over the last few years. He viciously attacked Rihanna in 2009 and has since shown little to no remorse, often drawing negative attention through more violent public stunts. But allowing that to cloud our judgment of his revelation does a disservice to young boys who, like Brown, have experienced an assault and don’t know how to talk about it.

I once worked with a guy who told me (these are his words): “I was molested when I was six, but it was by a bitch so it was OK. That’s why I’m a freak today.” We are raising boys to believe that their manhood rests in their ability to have sex with women as early and often as possible, to the point they believe any sexual encounter is simply a right of passage. Even if they know it’s wrong, they don’t admit to it because they believe this is expected of them. They are supposed to want it. And when they are assaulted, instead of speaking about the trauma they revel in the “success,” often masking the hurt and confusion.

What Barry sees as off-putting bragging coming from Brown is actually him coping with the assault by placing it in a context of a version of masculinity that allows him to feel better about the situation. In Brown’s mind, it was all just a part of growing up. That’s what boys are supposed to do. He really wanted to because he had watched so much porn. It prepared him to have sex with many women throughout his life and be able to please them. I’m sure he believes all of that to be true and in a society that places a premium on expression of male heterosexuality, he is bragging.

But he was raped. No matter how much you hate Chris Brown, that doesn’t change.

Mychal Denzel Smith is a Knobler Fellow at The Nation Institute and contributing writer for The Nation Magazine, as well as columnist for and Salon. As a freelance writer, social commentator, and mental health advocate his work has been seen online in outlets such as The New York Times, The Atlantic, Salon, Al Jazeera English, Gawker, The Guardian,, Huffington Post, The Root, and The Grio.

Mychal Denzel Smith is a Knobler Fellow at The Nation Institute and contributing writer for The Nation Magazine, as well as columnist for and Salon.

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  • John

    “What Barry sees as off-putting bragging coming from Brown is actually him coping with the assault”

    Thank you. I don’t want to get into details because I don’t feel as safe in this community as in other on-line communities, but this is exactly it. A lot of guys try to convince themselves that they wanted it or would have wanted it if they had been conscious as with me.

  • honeybee

    I have a serious problem with “forcing” people to be victims if they themselves do not feel like one. If he not only doesn’t have trauma from it but is proud of it, how you can say he’s a victim? You even admit “he believes all of that to be true”.

    We have to understand people are different. What is traumatic to someone could be great to someone else. People are not all the same. Moreso men and women have vastly different attitudes towards things like sex.

    We have enough victims in our society already without creating more. If someone is ok with what happened to them, everything is good. It’s the ones who aren’t ok we should focus on.

    And yes I’m speaking from personal experience where I’ve had experiences that I was not only ok with but really enjoyed which technically could be considered assault. But I am not a victim because I wanted it. It doesn’t matter that I was underage. I knew what I was doing and I enjoyed it. End of story.

    • Premala Matthen

      “Forcing someone to be a victim” – there are all sorts of connotations there that I’m not sure are appropriate. What does it mean to “be a victim”? Does it simply mean that one has been raped? Or are there implications of trauma, or weakness, or the loss of all agency there?

      Chris Brown was 8 years old when this incident happened. There is no room for us to start saying that maybe 8 year olds were actually consenting to sex with adolescents or adults. No. An 8 year old cannot consent to sex with a 14 year old. Talk to child psychologists and teachers and doctors and parents and adult survivors and 8 year olds and you will see why this is true (but I think that it is obvious).

      I also think that it should be obvious why it’s not ok to say, when discussing an incident where a 14 year old had sexual intercourse with an 8 year old, that “everything is good” as long as the child is “okay with” what happened to them. Do you not see how sexual abusers use this justification *all the time* in order to excuse their abuse of children? They manipulate the situation so that the child appears to be “okay with it”, and then they use that to claim that it was consensual. But 8 year old children aren’t developmentally ready to be engaged in sexual relationships, certainly not with people who are much older than them. So whether the harm is visible in the moment or not, it’s just not okay. It’s certainly not okay to take that risk with the well-being of an 8 year old child.

      A person does not have to display a certain level of trauma in order for their experiences to be defined as sexual assault. Maybe Chris Brown wasn’t traumatized by what happened to him (though I am skeptical of that, to say the least). I cannot speak to your experiences, but I know for sure that when a 14 year old has sexual contact with an 8 year old, that is sexual abuse.

    • Bex

      That’s the thing about rape. It isn’t always a seriously traumatic event (I know plenty of women who have experienced rape and didn’t experience it as trauma, and hate being told that they SHOULD feel traumatized by it)…

      But that doesn’t make it any less rape.

      • Danielle

        As a survivor…one of the hardest things for me is having other people think they know what happened and how I feel about it. I was raped by ex boyfriend and what I call that is between me and my therapist. Even if he feels that way about the experience because of the construction of masculine sex drive…that is how he feels. And while I feel what happened is NOT ok however he feels about it…whatever that may be…IS. I actually have a huge problem with the title of the article…It seems as though he is claiming that for all while in reality it is the author claiming something assumed to be for all…for him….

    • arlette dukuze

      Since when can an 8 yr old consent to having sex with someone. What if the genders were reversed and the 15yr old was a 30 yr old man? It was a sexual assault point blank period, to say it wasn’t makes no sense. Not acting like a victim (whatever that means) doesn’t stop you from being one. He was a victim of sexual violence and how he sees it today doesn’t take away the fact that he was taken advantage of by someone who should have know better.

  • emmie

    Excellent post. And I’m glad this is being addressed. It’s unfortunate that a lot of people don’t take male victims as seriously. And of course that needs to change. Not many people also realize that that type toxic culture is among some women as well. There are lot’s of women that likewise high-five their own girlfriends about what they have done. And I know plenty of women who have bragged about their own sexual “conquests” with many men.

    This topic is not discussed enough. So this is great that someone is speaking out on it. No matter how much I hate Chris Brown anyway.

  • Alena Peters

    While I don’t disagree that 8 year olds cannot consent to sex, and that Brown’s experience certainly constitutes an assault. This article doesn’t sit right with me for a number of reasons. Some of them centring around the way Brown is discussed in an article about his own “rape”.

    I think it’s really important that we give survivors the right to name their experiences. If it didn’t occur for him as rape (given the ways he’s had to construct his masculinity). I understand that in cycles of abuse that is problematic and ultimately the law exists for that reason.

    It is one thing to say that “what happened to this 8 year old was wrong”, it’s quite another to say “The way this adult is coping is wrong”

    Additionally I’m seriously put off by the ways the author qualifies taking the time to discuss Chirs Brown. Justifying why people should feel sympathy. 1. Survivors don’t necessarily need your “sympathy” and 2. If sympathy is what you have for an 8 year old who experienced an assault – then why would you qualify the acts of violence they may have later committed.

    This article begins to acknowledge the complexities being discussed and then fails to handle them delicately. Had this been about a female gendered survivor of sexual violence would it have been ok to remind folks of the violence they had perpetrated in the context of the violence committed toward them. I just don’t think so.

  • QuantumInc

    Of course Chris Brown sees his rape as a good thing! That is what rape culture does!

    The ethics of anything remotely related to sex are dissolved and reformed to fit the age old tale of strong man conquers woman. Of course Chris Brown and many, many others like to see themselves as being the conquering strong man. The whole concept of right and wrong means the act itself was morally wrong regardless of how the people involved think about it years later.

    Male socialization nearly prevents men like Chris Brown from feeling sad, hurt, or afraid. The feelings and behaviors we associate with “trauma” are converted into rage and violence by male socialization. A man who has been hurt doesn’t feel sad, hurt, or afraid, he feels anger and hatred because those are far more empowering and in tune with the ideal alpha male that Chris Brown and many, many others aspire to be.

    Unless his socialization is altered in a major way, most of the time a male rape victim of a woman will express even greater misogyny due to his rape. If you somehow believed that there was one thing in the world that excused misogyny, being raped by a woman would be it. I doubt he thinks of his misogynistic acts as a form of revenge on a conscious level, but it’s not a huge leap of logic to say that combined with typical male socialization it feeds a huge sense of general animosity towards woman. I don’t need to remind anyone of how misogynist this man has been.