A Chris Brown/Rihanna costume is not funny
Halloween is fun. Battering your girlfriend until her face is swollen and her lips are bloody is not. Stephanie Spera’s Oct. 28 article on last-minute costumes (“Last minute costume ideas”) is a light-hearted piece, offering Washington University students some tips for those of us who have been too busy with midterms to get a costume. Her suggestion for a Chris Brown and Rihanna costume, however, betrays her ignorance as to the severity of a trauma that affects men and women all over the world, including students right here at Washington University. She suggests that for the costume, “You just need makeup and a fake restraining order.” While this is a tasteless suggestion to begin with, she then ups the ante by mocking Rihanna for her supposed lack of talent. Not only is Rihanna attacked for being the victim of a violent crime, her artistic worth is questioned on top of it. Chris Brown escapes any reproach. After all, his only crime was felony assault.
As a member of the Washington University community, I find it deeply alarming that ignorant, hurtful statements like this are included with suggestions for Halloween costumes. The 2007 American College Health Association’s survey of Wash. U.’s campus revealed that 11.4 percent of Wash. U. women and 6.5 percent of Wash. U. men have been in emotionally abusive relationships in the last 12 months. That adds up to hundreds of men and women on this campus being victimized by their partners. Right here at Wash. U. The survey also showed that between 0.5 percent and 0.7 percent of students report being in physically or sexually abusive relationships. It is important to note that these numbers, like all numbers involving sexual assault and relationship violence, are under-representations because survivors of these crimes are unlikely to report. Surveys of colleges nationwide reveal that nearly one quarter of students experience physical violence in a relationship in college. Of course, just one student being victimized—emotionally or physically—by his or her partner is far too many.
I understand that Spera was trying to be funny. Humor is not a bad thing—I’m kind of a fan. The problem comes when the humor actively and willfully contributes to the oppression of a group, especially to an already traumatized and victimized group, for absolutely no reason. What is to be gained by poking fun at Rihanna’s face being pummeled by Chris Brown? Where is the humor in that? The reason Spera’s comment comes vaguely close to almost being socially acceptable is that relationship violence is a largely invisible crime, especially on college campuses. That is why many students may be shocked (and hopefully outraged) to find out that a sizeable percentage of their peers have been abused by a partner. When we joke about domestic violence, about a man beating the crap out of his girlfriend, it makes her suffering seem trivial, which only serves to minimize the trauma that survivors experience. Survivors of abuse have enough to deal with. There is no reason to add insult to physical and emotional injury by mocking their pain. We need to stand up and show our peers that we are willing and able to discuss these issues in a mature and understanding way so that those of us who are in violent relationships can feel comfortable asking for support. After all, if we can mock Rihanna for getting beaten bloody, how are we going to treat our peers whose injuries are not so conspicuous?
I would also like to remind everyone that the Sexual Assault and Rape Anonymous Helpline (S.A.R.A.H.) is available 24 hours to be a listening ear for any member of the community. It can be reached at (314) 935-8080.
Bobby is a senior in Arts & Sciences. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.