Nine months after the assault that shocked their fans and peers and threw both of their lives into turmoil, [artist id=”1961441″]Chris Brown[/artist] and [artist id=”1940303″]Rihanna[/artist] have begun to speak out on the events of February 8.
While Brown — who pleaded guilty to a count of felony assault in connection with the attack in June — has done two previous interviews in which he spoke in general terms about that night, in “Chris Brown: The Interview,” a sit-down with MTV News’ Sway Calloway that aired on Friday, the 20-year-old singer provided his most in-depth thoughts on the incident to date. Just hours later, more from Rihanna’s interview with Diane Sawyer aired on “20/20.”
In response to Rihanna’s comments — in which the singer gave a first-hand account of the assault and talked about her feelings toward Brown before and after the incident — Brown released a statement on Friday that read in part, “While I respect Rihanna’s right to discuss the specific events of February 8, I maintain my position that all of the details should remain a private matter between us. I do appreciate her support and wish her the best. I am extremely sorry for what I did, and I accept accountability for my actions. At this point, I am taking the proper steps to learn about me and grow from my mistakes.”
Terry O’Neill, President of the National Organization for Women and a victim of domestic violence, said on Monday that after viewing both interviews, she does not feel Brown has truly taken responsibility for his actions. “Chris Brown [wrote that statement] to Rihanna in which he said he believed his battery on her should remain a private issue. That’s what batterers need, they need it to be shameful and keep it a secret,” she said.
“If it’s secret, they can deny it and minimize it and claim that it was merely a temporary slip on the straight and narrow path and what really counts is that they’re a good person on the straight and narrow now,” she added. Brown stated several times in the interview that he was getting help and that he would never do such a thing again, hoping that his speaking out would help others. But O’Neill said the language the 20-year-old singer used to describe the assault made her think that Brown has not fully faced up to his actions.
“If he can’t deny it, then he can minimize it and talk about ‘When it happened,’ ‘When the incident happened,’ not ‘When I committed the assault,’ ” she said. “It’s a non-denial denial, which is classic behavior. He says he wants to teach others not to do this by simply saying, ‘Don’t do it?’ That’s not teaching others not to do it. Watching this makes me think his whole focus is on putting this behind him.”
As for Rihanna, O’Neill credited the singer with speaking openly about a very painful subject and taking responsibility for both her own actions and realizing that as a role model she had to also take responsibility on behalf of other women who might find themselves in this situation. “She strikes me as someone completely grappling with, ‘Who am I, what kind of person am I and how do I respond to this and be the person I want to be?’ ” said O’Neill. “She is really taking personal responsibility for this and sharing her response in a way that allows her to live the way she wants to: free of fear, in safety and in a way that can help others to be safe.”
Sheryl Cates, CEO of the National Domestic Violence Hotline agreed that Brown’s thoughts and demeanor did not seem to indicate that he understood the gravity of the situation.
While Cates, who has more than 20 years of experience in the field of domestic violence, has no firsthand knowledge of Brown’s counseling, she said the singer’s comments about being “confused” about his public perception seem to indicate that he is not taking ownership of his actions.
“It’s not saying, ‘What I did is not tolerated and I’m going to do what needs to be done now to make sure it doesn’t happen again,’ ” she said. “That’s what I would like him to say.”
Nathaniel Fields, senior vice president of New York-based victim-assistance agency Safe Horizon, said 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.
“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.”