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Rihanna’s Silver Lining

I work in a high school that does a lot to address issues of dating violence, family violence, and harassment. We have two full time social workers, and services from the local rape crisis center and the woman’s shelter. We even have one group that addresses the emotional needs of students who have survived wars and/or have lived in refugee camps. I am hopeful that these efforts have an effect on the future relationships of our students, and I am always glad when something from outside the school can help students to come forward and discuss the issues of violence they face.

The relationship violence of Chris Brown towards Rihanna presents just such an opportunity to schools that are looking to for a way to discuss such issues. Here’s how a personal yet public tragedy is being used for good in one high school:

Beyond Gossip, Good and Evil
the New Agenda

In the month since the Chris Brown and Rihanna case broke, bodies of women killed by their current or former intimate partners have piled up. Young love is supposed to hurt a bit emotionally, but increasingly, it bruises. The vociferous response to Chris Brown and Rihanna Fenty, and the range of perspectives on who has the right to hit whom, make it clear that we need to talk about this issue more often, particularly in schools.

Here’s the story.

The Bloods have a strict policy against domestic violence. That’s what a 16-year-old male affiliate proudly told me last year before a weekly "gang awareness" meeting of about fifteen teens, most of them Crips, Bloods or Latin Kings, at a high school in Castle Hill, the Bronx. That week, the topic was domestic violence, and several members of the group, including the 16-year-old, said that hitting a woman was never acceptable. Others argued that there were situations where it just couldn’t be helped.

The conversation turned to an article I had written about domestic violence in the hip hop industry for Vibe. The rapper Big Pun grew up near the high school, and his devastating abuse of his wife (which started when the couple was just 16) was described in the piece. "I heard she cheated on him," said the only young woman in the group, and others repeated some of the many rumors that swirled around Pun’s wife when she told her story (up until then she had been Soundview’s favorite widow). Several people enthusiastically launched into scenarios where it was OK to hit a woman. There were many. The bottom line: sometimes you’ve got to teach a woman a lesson if she gets out of line. It sounded like a man’s responsibility.

In the midst of the rationalizing, one usually talkative young man stood up and walked out. When he returned twenty minutes later, he quietly told the group that his aunt had recently been murdered by her abusive boyfriend. It was no longer a hypothetical conversation. The jokes stopped. Young men who were significantly invested in their inner gangsters gave them time off, and started talking about how domestic violence had affected their lives-and it had affected most of them. The young woman, who minutes before had been arguing in favor of beating females who didn’t know their place, talked about how despite the rules, male gang members beat up on female gang members. Behind her swagger, she seemed anxious.

More at the link. I wish there had been more discussions of this sort when I was in school.

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