Magazine of Socialist Action in Australia

US: Rihanna, Chris Brown and intimate partner violence

Reading Time: 3 minutes

The headlines have been blaring with news that pop star Chris Brown (19) beat his girlfriend and fellow pop star, Rihanna (21) during a violent quarrel.

It came as a shock to educators and public health professionals when the results of a poll conducted by the Boston Public Health Commission of 200 Boston teenagers indicated that nearly half thought that Rihanna was to blame for her beating and that 71 percent thought that violent arguments were a “normal” part of relationships.

Intimate partner violence (IPV) is widespread. The American Journal of Preventive Medicine reports that between 25 and 53 percent of women will experience IPV in their lives. Although same sex couples and heterosexual men are also victims, women are affected in much greater numbers.

The Bureau of Justice shows that IPV is the leading cause of premature death for African American women aged 15 to 45 and the seventh for US women overall. Since African American women make up 8 percent of the US population but account for 42 percent of intimate partner homicides, it requires that we look deeper at the economic and social causes of IPV.

A 2004 study found that women living in disadvantaged neighborhoods are more than twice as likely to be victims of intimate partner violence than women in more affluent neighborhoods. The poorest communities, as communities of color and households headed by women often are, suffer from the greatest unemployment, poverty, and lack of social advancement. Research shows that it is poverty, not race that is the greatest risk factor for IVP. Economic stress may not always lead to violence, but violence of all types, as well as IPV, run higher in impoverished areas.

Unmistakably, the economic crisis, and the recession that has followed, has led to an increase in violence within American families. In the first three months of 2009, there was a 40 percent increase in IPV related homicides. The National Domestic Violence Hotline reported that there was a 21 percent increase in calls in the third quarter of 2008 in relation to the same period in 2007. A majority of callers reported a downward change in their financial status.

In San Joaquin, California, the county which tops the nation in foreclosures, there was a fifty percent increase in requests for orders of protection and a steep rise in court ordered neglect investigations. This is due to families living without heat and electricity, leading to crisis counselors themselves blaming the economy.

The also US creates more combat veterans who are exposed to, and trained in violence than any other country. Returning veterans, rising unemployment and homelessness due to foreclosures are added on top of the poverty and lack of equal opportunities for working class women and people of color. All these factors are the result of the profit driven system of capitalism which contributes to tension between partners.

Unlike the tabloids which sensationalise violence, socialists point out the root cause of the problem which is the economic system that forces many women into a state of economic dependence and low wages. Instead we need to guarantee a living income for all women.

Intimate partner violence is degrading, often lethal and must be eradicated. A working people’s movement to end poverty would organise and demand change, making IPV a rarity, not one of the leading causes of premature death of US women today.

Since the Republicans and Democrats are only interesting in bailing out the banks, not in improving the quality of our lives. We need to build a working people’s political party of our own that represents our needs not the needs of the corporations.

The political alternative we support would demand:

– Decent jobs for all
– A living income to give women economic security
– No cuts to social services
– Quality public housing for all who need it, with special provision for those under threat of violence
– Free high quality government funded childcare
– A massively expanded paid maternity and paternity leave scheme
– Creation of special community organisations for the victims of intimate partner violence, separate from the police

By Margaret Collins


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