By Milton J. Valencia and Jenna Nierstedt
Here’s a conversation starter: Nearly half of the 200 Boston teenagers interviewed for an informal poll said pop star Rihanna was responsible for the beating she allegedly took at the hands of her boyfriend, fellow music star Chris Brown, in February.
Of those questioned, ages 12 to 19, 71 percent said that arguing was a normal part of a relationship; 44 percent said fighting was a routine occurrence.
The results of the survey, conducted by the Boston Public Health Commission across the city and equally among boys and girls, are startling for local health workers who see a generation of youths who seem to have grown accustomed, even insensitive, to domestic violence.
“I think you’d have to be pretty jaded if you weren’t startled by it,” said Casey Corcoran, director of the health commission’s new Start Strong program.
The program began in the fall as part of a Start Strong: Building Healthy Teen Relationships Initiative, a private foundation program that was offered in 11 cities across the country. Corcoran said the four-year, $1 million competitive grant program will allow the city to train mentors and outreach workers to speak to 11- to 14-year-olds about the dangers of domestic violence.
Corcoran said the Rihanna and Brown controversy, which is one of today’s top entertainment news stories and a topic of conversation for young people, allows for teachers and parents to begin conversations about the dangers, and prevalence, of domestic violence.
“This is something tough for parents to bring up, but this is a very big case regarding domestic violence,” said Corcoran, pointing out that Oprah Winfrey devoted her television show yesterday to teen dating violence and featured the Start Strong initiative.
“This is an opportunity to start those conversations; it shouldn’t end with a survey,” Corcoran said.
The Brown-Rihanna incident has created much controversy, mostly because of Rihanna’s reported continuance of her relationship with Brown after alleged past assaults. The case has been pointed to by advocate groups for domestic violence victims as an example of the challenges victims face in confronting domestic violence.
Health counselors are specifically concerned with teenagers’ views of the controversy. Of the teens questioned, more than half said both Brown, 19, and Rihanna, 21, were equally responsible for the assault. More than half said the media were treating Brown unfairly, and 46 percent said Rihanna was responsible for the incident.
Local teenagers from the Hyde Square Task Force in Boston said they found the case, and the survey, troubling, adding that the pop stars are supposed to serve as role models. But unfortunately, they are seeing such violence too often.
“I had friends getting beat by their boyfriends and coming to school with black eyes,” said Kendra Lara, 19, of Jamaica Plain. “Some people do take it, and I don’t understand it.”