by Maya Rhodan
WASHINGTON (NNPA)—When Brittny Henderson was 16, she thought she was in love. The target of her affection was popular and on the football team. She was young and excited. “It was really wonderful at first,” Henderson said. “It was normal.”
They spent every waking moment together. In the morning he would pick her up for school, text her all day and come to her house after football practice. When he left her house at night, he would call her and they would talk before bed.
|Kimmi Herring, director of the Brooklyn Community Program at Safe Horizons
But after a while, “normal” became abnormal.
“He would get mad when I was with other people—tell me my friends weren’t good for me,” Henderson said. “Towards the end of our relationship, he put me on a diet—he would just make me feel so insecure and so unsure of myself.”
He would go out of his way to control every aspect of Brittny’s life. He would slash her tires to keep her from going to work.
“I just thought he loves me so much he wants to spend time with me. I hadn’t realized he controlled every waking moment of my life, that I hadn’t seen my friends in two months,” said Henderson.
Brittny Henderson also hadn’t realized that she was in an emotionally abusive relationship as a teenager—one that she wouldn’t get out of until her freshman year at college.
According to the Center for Disease Control’s National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, approximately 4 out of every 10 African American women have fallen victim to some form of sexual or physical violence in their lifetime.
But, according to Kimmi Herring, director of the Brooklyn Community Program at Safe Horizons, the nations largest provider of domestic violence services, domestic violence comes in all colors.
“It can happen to anyone,” says Herring, whose program assists more than 1,000 victims of domestic violence a year. “The last thing I would want is for a victim to think they somehow deserved what happened to them because they aren’t educated or because of how much money they make or what color they are.”
Domestic violence affects one in four women throughout their lifetimes. It is the leading cause of injury to women aged 15 to 44, with women ages 20-24 being at the highest risk for abuse.
However, despite the affect domestic violence has on society, there is an alarming trend of victim blaming, especially among younger people.
“The media seems to glorify dating violence among young people,” Brittny said. “It’s hard to know what a healthy relationship looks like when all you see is negative images on television.”
There are fewer figures larger on television than singers Chris Brown and Rihanna. In 2009, they were involved in a highly-publicized domestic dispute that left the then 21-year-old beauty bloodied and swollen, while her superstar boyfriend was taken into police custody.
Consequently, Brown was left with a tarnished image within the media – but not with his fans. A survey of more than 200 Boston teens ages found that more than 46 percent felt it was Rihanna’s fault; a significant amount also felt the singer was ruining Brown’s career.
Herring remembers visiting high schools following the incident and being surprised by the responses.
“It was alarming to hear the number of students who gave the OK to this assault and to say things like ‘well if she hadn’t done this, then she would not have done that,’” Herring said. “Many of them felt that his actions were justified because he searched his phone.”
They weren’t the only stars unsnarled in a domestic spat.
When Evelyn Lozada, star of the VH1 reality television series “Basketball Wives,” was involved in a domestic dispute with her husband Chad “Ochocinco” Johnson a meme that delegitimized her claim that Johnson physically harmed her became popular on Facebook.
The photo was of a scene from an episode of “Basketball Wives” in which a visibly enraged Lozada was throwing a bottle at a fellow cast member. The photo’s caption reads: “A repeatedly violent woman should not be allowed to be an advocate [against] domestic violence.”
Not everyone agrees with the idea that violence somehow brought the violence upon themselves.
“We have a pervasive culture of victim blaming and lots of teens have comments as well,” said Cristina Escobar, the Director of Love is Respect, an initiative of the youth anti-domestic violence organization, Break the Cycle.
One thing teens need to become more aware of, Escobar says, is the fact that they are at an increased risk to experience violence–one in three teens are at risk of being a victim of dating violence, according to loveisrespect.org.
“There’s always this idea that domestic violence is something that happens to grown ups but actually we’re seeing it more among young people,” Escobar said. “Without receiving the same serious response that you sometimes have with adults. We’re really trying to change that.”
Jordan Coleman, a 17-year-old high school senior, has been working since he was 14 to help raise awareness among young people and change attitudes towards dating violence.
When Coleman was in eighth grade, he and his mother wrote, directed and produced a film that shed light on the issue of teen dating violence titled, “Payin’ the Price.”
Coleman said, “Teen dating violence is seen as a societal norm. I think that a lot of young people understand and value relationships. I think a lot of things on TV don’t help, a lot of things in our surroundings don’t help—there are a lot of things that contribute to our being violent and careless. “
In the film, a teen is accused of physically assaulting a young woman he was involved with, an accusation that leads to his arrest. Coleman says he wants to spread the word about teen dating violence so that the statistic of one in three teens is a victim becomes “none in three.”
“We need to be able to prevent teen dating violence all together,” Coleman said. “We need to have a national conversation about the issue, we need to continue pushing it.”
Herring says the best ways to prevent violence are to raise awareness and provide support.
“People need to understand that domestic violence isn’t something that happens to people 21 and above,” Herring said. “While this is something that can happen to anyone, it can also be very isolating but there is a lot of support available whether you are a teen or an adult or a friend of someone who finds themselves this situation.”
Brittny, 22, is now a National Youth Advisory board member for Love is Respect. She and 20 other young people go out into their local communities to spread positive messages about dating violence.
“Young people need to understand that it’s not about being in a relationship that hurts you. It’s about being in one that empowers you.”
More information and support for people in domestic violence situations can be found at loveisrespect.org and safehorizons.org
Safe Horizons also provides a 24 hour hotline for victims in the NY area: 1-800-621-HOPE (4673)
(Maya Rhodan is NNPA Washington Correspondent.)