by Kathleen O’Brien/The Star-Ledger; Thursday March 12, 2009
Very little about the case of singer Rihanna — whose bruised face in an evidence photograph has become a symbol of domestic violence — surprises New Jersey’s experts in the field.
Not the brutality of the violence with which her boyfriend, singer Chris Brown, is charged.
Not the relative youth of the couple. (She’s 21, he just 19.)
Not even news the two appear to be reconciled — even as they await his April 6 arraignment.
Whether publicity about photograph, reportedly taken by investigators after the Feb. 8 assault, helps or hurts Rihanna herself remains to be seen. However, it may prove to be a powerful flashcard that provides insights to everyone else, they say.
“It’s a shock-value photo,” said Judy Postmus, director of Rutgers University’s Center on Violence Against Women and Children. “It shows this happens to everyone: rich or poor, white or black, famous or not famous.”
Those who work with battered women say they fear some women may think they have to be as badly injured as Rihanna in order to have it considered domestic violence. The singer’s battered visage may be so threatening that such women will try to distance themselves from it.
“They’ll say, ‘That happened to her, but my situation isn’t as bad. I’ve never been bitten in the ear, so I don’t have it as bad as she does,” said Anthony Winchatz, a retired Bridgewater Police Department lieutenant who now works with the Somerset County’s domestic violence agency.
“I will have people call me and say, ‘I don’t know if I’m a victim of domestic violence because I didn’t get a black eye and I didn’t go to the hospital,” said Diane Finn, coordinator of client services for the Rachel Coalition, which provides non-residential domestic violence counseling for Essex County.
“Not all violence results in a black eye or a broken arm,” Finn said. There may be incidents of pushing, choking or dragging by the hair — “but nothing you can take a picture of.”
Brown, an R&B star, is charged with two felonies for his alleged attack on girlfriend Rihanna, which included beating, biting, and choking her before trying to kick her out of his Lamborghini.
The couple has since appeared to have reconciled, with Brown apologizing and reportedly giving her a ring.
Despite the stereotype of domestic violence involving married women with children, it is just as prevalent in dating relationships. Experts say they see hints of unhealthy anger and control even in middle-school couples. In New Jersey, domestic violence offenses arising from a dating relationship accounted for 15 percent — or 10,646 — of the total for 2007.
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