Domestic Violence Victims Don't Have To Cope Alone

Rihanna and Chris Brown shed light on the issue of dating abuse.

Victims of domestic violence often feel ashamed, confused, embarrassed and humiliated after being assaulted by their partners. Though in many instances the victims keep those feelings to themselves, they're better off if they share them with a specialist who can help them work through the trauma.

But what if the victim is one of the world's biggest pop stars? And what if there's a part of her that feels like she wants to protect her batterer? That's the dilemma Rihanna shared with ABC's Diane Sawyer in her first televised interview since an assault at the hands of former boyfriend [artist id="1961441"]Chris Brown[/artist] in February, airing Friday night (November 6) on "20/20."

Nathaniel Fields, senior vice president of New York-based Safe Horizon, the nation's largest victim-assistance agency, said that Rihanna's comments about feeling embarrassed and humiliated by the assault are typical of domestic violence victims.

"We hear a lot of that in our work, but what's so difficult about this is that it's playing out in a public arena and she's not afforded the right to privacy that the victims we tend to work with do," he said. But judging from the way the 21-year-old singer is talking about her emotions since the incident, Fields said it sounds like she is getting proper support. "She seems to be getting help and is realizing that despite being famous, she's a human being and still subject to the same responses to domestic violence, which is women who go back, who were in love and who find it difficult to leave.

One of the most remarkable aspects of what Rihanna has said so far in the excerpts of her interview with ABC News is how she is coping with her public persona and the responsibility she feels to be a proper role model, said Terry O'Neill, president of the National Organization for Women.

"I think it's really neat that she is understanding the impact of her public persona, especially on younger girls," said O'Neill. "It's remarkable and wonderful that she gets that piece of it."

For his part, Chris Brown has also recognized that he needs to set an example for others. "I really wanted to apologize [to] the people that I let down and show people that I am wrong for what I've done, but I want people to learn from it and see that I'm really apologetic," he told MTV News' Sway Calloway in an interview that airs Friday at 6 p.m. ET/PT on MTV.

The February incident came just two days after the end of National Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Week, a three-year-old effort to get out the warning signs about violence among young people (16-24) in relationships. Among those signs, according to experts, are intense jealousy, excessive text messaging or calling, monitoring calls or e-mails, frequently showing up unannounced, telling the other person what to do or wear, publicly embarrassing your partner, frequent accusations of "cheating" or flirting, keeping your partner from doing things they enjoy, and threats of suicide or self-injury in the event of a breakup.

If you think you're a victim of domestic violence, it's important to know how to spot it, what to do when it happens and whom to reach out to in such an event. Fortunately, there are number of non-profit outlets offering help to young people dealing with abuse.

In addition to long-running organizations, some college kids have created their own networks to help their peers deal with the pain of relationship abuse. It's Abuse, for example, is a campaign that was created in Columbus, Ohio, to bring awareness to and help break the silence about relationship abuse. The site features a number of quizzes designed to educate readers on what is and isn't healthy in a relationship. It also has videos to help young people identify different types of abuse.

The number of teenagers who endure abuse throughout the country is shocking, to say the least. A study commissioned by Liz Claiborne Inc. and conducted by Teenage Research Unlimited in February 2005 showed that one in three teenagers reportedly knows a friend or peer who has been hit, punched, kicked, slapped, choked or physically hurt by their partner. In addition, 13 percent of teenage girls who said they have been in a relationship report being physically hurt or hit.

The figure that's most alarming, however, is that 73 percent of teens surveyed in the study said they would turn to a friend for help, but only 33 percent of those who have been in or known about an abusive relationship said they have told anyone.

"Often women who are battered will take some responsibility for the violence and wonder, 'Is it something I did that made this happen?' " explained Sheryl Cates, CEO of the National Domestic Violence Hotline. "But there's no reason for violence, and I see an undertone of [Rihanna] struggling with how this has affected her life. She still seems traumatized by what happened, but I think she's being very brave and courageous by coming out in such a public way in such a short period of time."

In situations of abuse, it's best to talk to family or local community leaders. If you're afraid, confused or embarrassed to speak to them, here are alternative places to turn for help:

National Domestic Violence Hotline: NDVH.org, or 800-799-SAFE

National Teen Dating Violence Helpline: LoveIsRespect.org, or 866-331-9474

Safe Horizon: SafeHorizon.org, or 800-621-HOPE

It's Abuse: ItsAbuse.com