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 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.

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Holly Kearl By:   |   March 13, 2009


  1. Gloria Gloria says:

    Thanks Holly. Unfortunately, the average American gets their info from Oprah and Tyra–which is kind of scary sometimes. The resources you listed were very good. It is important to have information from people who are skilled experts in the field–not just random opinions-which is often all that takes place on those kinds of shows.When there is an opportunity to bring issues to light it should be done responsibly.

  2. Avatar hollykearl says:

    Thanks, Jo. I’ve never watched “Oprah” before so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’ve attended three 40-hour domestic violence trainings prior to dv volunteer and internship engagements and I am disappointed thinking how Oprah’s average viewer, who may not know very much about relationship abuse, did not benefit from learning accurate information. Tyra’s experience in an emotionally abusive relationship and her interviews with Rihanna and Chris provide her with some insight into abusive relationships, but they do not make her an expert.

  3. Avatar Jo Turner says:

    The auther of this article (Holly Kearl) made excellent points about the deficiencies of Oprah’s program on Abusive Relationships. I was especially impressed with the numerous articles she sighted. They are all excellent. Thank you for this posting! ! !

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