In March, Chris Brown had another top 10 hit on the Billboard Hot 100. Three months later, the Grammy-winning singer was accused of hitting a woman during an argument at a Los Angeles residence, according to multiple media reports.
For more than a decade, Brown has been repeatedly accused of violence against women. The most high-profile incident involved his former girlfriend Rihanna, who became a poster child for domestic abuse after Brown assaulted her the night before the 2009 Grammys and a photo of her face was leaked to TMZ. Brown pleaded guilty to a felony assault charge.
In 2017, Brown’s ex-girlfriend, actress Karrueche Tran, obtained a restraining order against him after she said he threatened her with violence. In 2016, a woman accused Brown of threatening her with a gun inside his house, though he was not convicted. Brown has also been accused of assaulting a woman at a club and at a party. In 2019, Brown was accused of raping a woman in Paris. He was released without charges.
Brown's reps have yet to comment on the latest accusations against him.
Before Brown assaulted Rihanna, he was one of the hottest acts in music with a string of hits on the Billboard Hot 100. While public sentiment turned on him immediately following the assault, he has maintained a fan base and continued to sell records. The repeated accusations against Brown suggest he has not reckoned with his abusive behavior. His continued success suggests neither has the public.
“Abuse is an intentional pattern of behavior intended to help one person gain and maintain power and control over another person — whether that’s a partner, a friend or family member, a stranger, or even a celebrity," said Deborah Vagins, president of the National Network to End Domestic Violence. "An abusive person is the only person responsible for their actions. It’s their decision to perpetrate abuse in the first place, and it’s their decision whether they ultimately want to change their behavior and stop the abuse. But society can hold them accountable and we can choose how we respond to them and decide whether they reflect the kind of public figure we want to support with our time, energy and money."
Brown's most ardent fans – dubbed "Team Breezy" – have consistently defended him and suggest he's the target of racial profiling. Brown has occasionally used social media to defend himself. After a woman said Brown threatened her with a gun, he took to Instagram to lambaste the police, claiming "every three months y'all come up with something." He also responded to the rape allegation on Instagram calling it "false" and against his "character and morals."
More than half of U.S. women have been physically assaulted in their lifetime, according to the Justice Department, and one in 3 women has experienced intimate partner violence, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Approximately 1 in 5 women in the U.S. has experienced a completed or attempted rape, according to the CDC. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 75% of violent incidents involve male offenders.
Brown's initial sentence 'did not hold him accountable'
After Brown assaulted Rihanna, he was sentenced to five years probation and 1,400 hours of community service.
Ruth Glenn, president of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said the sentence was too light to communicate the gravity of Brown's actions.
"God knows what Rihanna experienced in the weeks and months leading up to that, the emotional abuse as well, but the physical violence alone should have resulted in a much stronger sentence, which may have helped him understand the severity of what he had done and that society would not accept it," she said.
While Glenn says the U.S. lacks a model for rehabilitating perpetrators, and there is debate around whether rehabilitation is even possible, she notes if a perpetrator has any hope of changing behavior, they need to contemplate what they've done.
"He needs time to be held accountable in ways where he can reflect and make personal behavior changes," Glenn said. "It's certainly not going to happen during probation, and particularly for someone who we saw was as violent as Chris Brown."
Vagins said an abusive person must be truly committed to acknowledging the harm they’ve caused in order to change.
"It’s an intentional, lifelong process to unlearn the behaviors, mindsets, and values that allow someone to normalize their own violence toward someone else," Vagins said.
Brown's exposure to domestic violence as a child and the role it played
When Brown issued a public apology after assaulting Rihanna, he disclosed that he "grew up in a home where there was domestic violence and I saw first-hand what uncontrolled rage can do."
More than 15 million children in the United States live in homes in which domestic violence has occurred, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which notes these children are at greater risk for "repeating the cycle as adults by entering into abusive relationships or becoming abusers themselves."
While she doesn't deny the connection, Glenn said using childhood trauma as a defense for perpetrating abuse is a slippery slope.
"I would challenge us to think about where our history and cultural experiences stop and where personal responsibility begins," she said. "I know many wonderful men who grew up with violence in their homes and never harmed a woman."
Glenn said men perpetrating violence must focus on their present-day choices and first stop committing violence before they can work backwards to explore causes.
What supporting Chris Brown costs victims and the public
Brown's continued success despite the accusations against him sends the message to women and abuse survivors that society still does not value their health or their lives.
"We're still second class citizens, we still live in a society that believes our lives don't matter as much as the lives of the men who harm us," Glenn said.
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To minimize violence perpetrated by men such as Brown, society must continue to raise awareness about the power dynamics present in these forms of abuse, to continue to examine the root causes of violence against women and to give voice to the millions of women who have survived it.
"(We urge) the public to center the experiences and needs of the people that Chris Brown has harmed," Vagins said, "and to support their requests for safety, accountability and justice.”
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Chris Brown, violence against women, and whether abusers can change