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February 22, 2017 - Image 13

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.


o this day, I remember the


I was 12 years old when Robyn

“Rihanna” Fenty, a 20-going-

on-21-year-old pop artist from Barbados,

suddenly canceled her performance for the

51st annual Grammy Awards. Despite the

fact that I was hardly a Rihanna fan at the

time, I found myself intrigued by the news.

I remained concerned as the story unfolded

rapidly, bursting forth like a phoenix from

a fire. But my curiosity quickly changed to

disgust when from these sensationalized

flames emerged a disturbing account of

intimate partner violence.

Suddenly, photos of Rihanna — her face

bruised and contorted at the hands of then-

boyfriend Chris Brown — were blasted across

newspapers, websites and television screens

across the country in what I cannot help

but see as a grotesque invasion of privacy.

Through it all, I could not help but wonder:

How did a “verbal dispute” escalate to the

point that bodies were battered? How could

Brown, a rising musician from a small town

in Virginia with so much “potential” commit

such a horrible act? What man is capable of

procuring so much rage, fury and coldness

that he can, with a flash of his fist, induce so

much suffering in a woman he is supposed to


I did not feel any sense of resolution or

justice — and I certainly do not feel these

things when I think of the incident now —

when Chris Brown was sentenced to five

years of probation, one year of domestic

violence counseling and 1,400 hours of

“labor-oriented service.” My disappointment

stemmed from the realization that no amount

of “restorative” measures could compensate

for the wounds Rihanna sustained. As both a

public figure and survivor, her entire personal

life and social network was dissected by the

jaws of an entertainment-thirsty public, most

of whom could only imagine the way the

incident affected her.

But even then, she would be expected to

maintain the trajectory of her career while

Brown was allowed to retain his. I could not

— still cannot — fathom how some can idolize

a man capable of such

violence and even refer

to him as an “artist.”

There is nothing artistic

about domestic violence

in the slightest, and



YouTube apology.



about Rihanna’s story

as a symbol of a more


At its core, domestic



dynamics, intimidation






orientations, age ranges

and ability statuses.




forces in our society.

Both in high school

and at the University of

Michigan, I have heard

my peers argue against

a survivor’s credibility

based on “what she was

wearing,” “how much

she was drinking” and

even her inability to “read cues.” These

statements contribute to a culture of blame

that both silences survivors and overlooks

the accountability of perpetrators.

The National Domestic Violence Hotline

estimates that one in four women and one

in seven men over the age of 18 have faced

severe physical violence from a partner at

some point in their lives. However, domestic

violence can also manifest itself in other ways

— including economic abuse, threatening

relationships between a survivors and their

children, forcefully isolating a partner and

using coercion to manipulate a partner’s

emotions. Yet, I know from my own personal

experiences that these forms of violence are

rarely shown in media.

During my first semester at the University,

I enrolled in a women’s health class

that challenged me to look beyond this

dramaticized lens. I was touched by the

words of Heidi Sproull, a clinical social

worker whose experiences involved working

with survivors and perpetrators of sexual

violence. Through a narrative that was both

vulnerable and powerful, Sproull reminded

us that the body is not an open book, but a

sacred space that can be vandalized by forces

of coercion and control.

To this day, I reflect on this course and

the way that it further inspired me to learn

more about domestic violence. Since then,

I have pursued more coursework in gender

and health and volunteered for our campus’s

Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness

Center. I have learned from fellow students

and volunteers that domestic violence is

hardly a “one-size-fits-all” crime; rather,

one that is influenced by race, class, sexual

orientation, tribal affiliation, citizenship

and ability status. I have come to see that we

cannot understand the gravity of domestic

violence without considering the unique

backgrounds and experiences of the survivor.

As students at the University, we must

consider our campus’s culture surrounding

domestic and sexual violence. While as many

as 20 percent of female undergraduates have

experienced some form of “unwanted kissing,

groping, digital penetration, or oral, vaginal,

or anal sex” according to the 2015 Campus

Climate Survey, less than 4 percent of cases

will be reported. We have to ask ourselves:

What does it mean to truly be the Leaders

and the Best? As our University approaches

its 200th birthday, we still have a long way

to go before our campus community is active

in the fight against intimate partner violence

and rape culture.

As someone who has neither experienced

nor directly witnessed domestic violence,

I write this piece from a place of immense

privilege, and perhaps one of some distance.

But nonetheless, I am driven to write about

this issue because I dream of living in a

violence-free world. I aspire to live and

participate in a community where domestic

violence is regarded not as a “woman’s issue,”

but as a human rights concern. I recognize

that eradicating this issue — given President

Donald Trump’s attitude toward the Violence

Against Women Act — mandates that we

question deeply rooted social doctrines

regarding consent, masculinity, gender and


But perhaps most importantly, I ask that

we — as a campus community, rather than

individuals — challenge our discomfort

rather than abandoning it. When we

recognize that domestic violence is anything

but a “private” matter to be isolated behind

closed doors, we can take a step forward

in promoting a space that is safe for all.

I am steadfast in my belief that no college

campus, city, state or nation can consider

itself fully developed as long as domestic

violence persists.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017 // The Statement

by Neel Swamy, Michigan in Color Senior Editor

Personal Statement:
Not an open book, but a sacred space


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