On today's Good Morning America, Rihanna, who sat down with Diane Sawyer for a 20/20 segment airing tomorrow, offered her advice for young domestic violence victims: "Don't react off of love. Eff love."
This is the pop singer's first big TV interview since the domestic violence episode she very publicly suffered. Sawyer was sympathetic regarding Rihanna's initial decision to go back to Chris Brown, pointing out that it takes a woman an average of seven attempts to leave an abusive partner, to which Rihanna responded "eight or nine actually." One of the saddest parts of the interview was the singer's admission that she still feels ashamed of the violence she suffered. She says, "I fell in love with that person. That's embarrassing. That's embarrassing that that's the type of person that I fell in love with, so far in love, so unconditionally that I went back." And even though she adds that, "It's completely normal to go back. You start lying to yourself," she says she feels guilty about the message her return to Brown sent to her fans.
This is a difficult part of the interview to watch, because Rihanna seems to authentically reproach herself for somehow being a "bad" role model. She says, "I realize that my selfish decision for love could result in some young girl getting killed." It's a big burden to shoulder, especially for someone still recovering from a trauma, and especially for someone who is herself so young. Yet alongside all the people who blamed Rihanna for her own abuse (whom she addresses when she tells Sawyer, "I didn't cause this") were people who demanded that Rihanna stand up as an example of domestic violence victims everywhere and essentially show them what to do. It's a challenge she appears to have taken up, as when she tells young victims "eff love," but it may not be a particularly fair one.
Rihanna got some flack for her recent single "Russian Roulette," which some people feel glorifies violence, and it's clear that, at least for a while to come, she'll be viewed as a Singer Who Is Also an Abuse Victim. It's admirable that she's chosen to turn the violation of her privacy (she talks ruefully about how she felt when her infamous post-abuse photo was released) into an opportunity to help other women, but it doesn't seem entirely just that she's forced to be a role model — and it's especially unfair that she has to feel guilty about what is, as Sawyer points out, sadly normal conduct, just because it took place in the public eye. The job of preventing future domestic violence should fall to law enforcement, to social workers, to trained anti-domestic violence educators, and to parents, who need to raise children to know that abuse is never acceptable. It shouldn't fall to the victims themselves, no matter how famous they are. And while perhaps Rihanna can derive some peace from helping other women, she shouldn't have to struggle with guilt on top of everything else she's been through.