Dating Violence on “Oprah”March 13, 2009
The recent alleged domestic violence by singer Chris Brown toward his singer girlfriend, Rihanna, inspired Oprah to air an hour-long special about dating violence on her show yesterday. I appreciate that she used her national platform to focus on this underaddressed national problem and to lessen the stigma around those who are in or who have been in abusive relationships.
On her show, Oprah made the issue of dating violence real by letting several ordinary people tell their abuse stories. She introduced useful resources like a great teen dating abuse website called loveisnotabuse.com and the National Teen Dating Abuse hotline, 866/331-9474. Guest co-host Tyra Banks and Oprah both forcefully emphasized the ideas that love should not hurt and that if someone is abusing you, then it’s not a healthy relationship.
On the downside, Oprah did not include a single domestic violence expert in the show. Without someone to knowledgably touch on crucial issues like how relationship abuse is a cycle of power and control, what the warning signs of abuse are, why it’s so hard to leave an abuser, and the different options for leaving, the special lacked context and even accuracy. For example, while Tyra and Oprah were quick not to blame Rihanna for Chris’s alleged abuse or for returning to him, they seemed to engage in victim blaming toward one of their guests and toward victims in general by saying it is people with low self esteem who will stay in abusive relationships. They did not talk about why it can take many unsuccessful attempts to leave an abuser before there is a successful attempt or how dangerous it can be for a person when they do leave an abuser.
These concerns aside, I hope that Oprah and Tyra were able to prompt discussions about domestic violence and dating abuse among their audience and to direct people to useful resources. Next week Oprah’s show will focus on abusers in violent relationships.