In his first televised interview since his assault of then-girlfriend Rihanna in February, singer Chris Brown told CNN's Larry King on Wednesday that the incident was "probably one of the worst moments of my life." While the singer repeatedly declined to describe what happened on the morning of February 8 when police say he beat, choked, bit and threatened to kill Rihanna, he did reiterate his wish that he could have "handled" the situation differently.
Brown made allusions to the possibility that the infamous photo of a bruised and battered Rihanna could have been "altered" and tried to explain his actions by offering, "We're both young, nobody taught us how to love one another. No one taught us a book on how to control our emotions, our anger." For domestic-violence experts, those comments and several others Brown, 20, made during the interview were potential signals that the singer has not grasped the complexity and seriousness of the felony assault charge to which he pleaded guilty and received five years' probation and six months of community labor.
In a statement released Thursday morning (September 2), Terry O'Neill, president of the National Organization for Women and a domestic-violence survivor herself, said Brown's declaration that he's still in shock over the assault is evidence that he's in denial about his actions. "It's all too common for offenders to claim that they are 'not the kind of person who would do such a thing,' " she said, alluding to comments by both Brown and his mother, Joyce Hawkins, about how allegedly out of character the violent assault was.
"But when we allow them to evade responsibility by redefining themselves in this way, we trivialize their crimes and jeopardize their victims' ability to heal and stay safe. The fact is that Chris Brown committed a vicious assault and thus, by definition, he is that kind of person. We do Rihanna and all survivors of intimate-partner violence a grave disservice by buying into his 'non-denial denial.' I for one am not convinced."
O'Neill later told MTV News that she doesn't think Brown really understands the situation. "If you juxtapose what he told Larry King with the police report on what he did to Rihanna ... when he says, 'I didn't recognize myself' ... understandably he looks back on his behavior and wishes he hadn't done these things," she said. "I'm sitting here looking at the police report ... the assault was long, it was not an explosive pummeling and then he stops. He was driving the car and he would stop the car and beat her and punch her as he's driving and while he's hitting her he's threatening her ... this takes time. The man beating this woman knew exactly what he was doing and was being very intentional about it."
More than 25 years ago, O'Neill said she was the victim of an eerily similar attack from her ex-husband and what she called Brown's "non-denial" — she has read the transcript of the King program and seen the online clips, but did not see the full televised interview — amounted, in her eyes, to the singer trying to curry favor with his fanbase and Larry King's audience while trying to seem contrite.
"I didn't see anything in the transcript or in the clips I saw that suggested to me that he really gets that what he was doing was using violence to achieve an end," she said. "I believe that he was not out of control ... for him and so many men who engage in this kind of violence, it's a technology they use to get what they want and I don't think he's ready to admit that. If one day he is, that would be a large step in changing his behavior."
As part of his sentence, Brown must attend a year of domestic-violence counseling, which O'Neill said was a start, but not a step that is likely to change his behavior in the future. "It seems to me that Chris Brown is in a mind-set where he is not inclined to change his behavior," she said. "He wants people to think better of him, but he's not inclined to stop doing whatever he needs to do to get what he wants ... This is a clear pattern of behavior and for people who do this, it takes more than one year of a program to decide, 'I better use other means to get what I want and I better learn to accept that sometimes I can't get the things I want.' I hope that he will become a different person, but it looks to me like he's someone who has a long road to get there."
CNN, which aired the interview, referred to it on Thursday in on-air headlines as "Chris Brown's Bad Night on TV," an appearance anchor Rick Sanchez said would not do much to change public opinion about the young singer and may have actually hurt his image more than it helped.
Sheryl Cates, CEO of the National Domestic Violence Hotline, watched the entire interview and agreed with O'Neill that it seemed as if Brown was still resisting telling the entire truth about the assault and appeared to talk more about how it hurt him than Rihanna.
"Usually, when there is violence between intimate partners, it's about power and control and the belief that you can use violence to enforce your will," she said. "He doesn't get that. He thinks it's about anger and he frames it as, 'We had this argument,' which says to me that he has not sought counseling or that those who are working with him don't understand intimate-partner violence."
In Cates' opinion, Brown's denials and sometimes evasive answers about alleged previous incidents and the couple's post-assault reunion made it seem as if Brown was minimizing the incident. "He minimized how this happened and also the previous incidents," she said. MTV News attempted to reach Brown's lawyer for clarification on the previously reported domestic incidents that allegedly happened before the February 8 assault but could not reach him for comment.
"Even his lawyer did [say] the supposed incident was not domestic violence, but vandalism," she said of attorney Mark Geragos. "It's hard for me to believe from watching this that he has taken full responsibility ... I think he thought he could get away with it and there would be no repercussions."