In the past few weeks, like many Americans, I have had to face the harsh reality of how tragic domestic violence can be in the lives of women. It isn’t just that I have two small nieces who look up to Rihanna and listen to her music. This is now very personal for me because last week I buried a colleague and sister friend, Patricia Ann Simmons-Kelly, who was shot by her husband while she was at church in Silver Spring, Md.
I am having a hard time shaking the image of Pat in her casket. The sad thing for the many friends and family members who spoke at her funeral was that they had no idea that her life was in any danger. Ladies at her church and women in iask, Inc., a group I founded, had no idea that behind Pat’s friendly smile, big heart and warm demeanor was a woman living with the fear and stress of a broken marriage. She had apparently asked her husband to leave their home at about the time she lost her job to a mass layoff at the law firm where she worked. One week later, she was dead.
How did it get this far? Was it financial strain from the layoff? Was it the fact that she had asked him to move out? We may never know.
What we do know is that events like this don’t happen overnight. Her husband was clearly in severe emotional distress, and he had murdered her in his mind long before he actually pulled the trigger. The sad thing is that this is all too common.
According to the Domestic Violence Resource Center, black women are subject to a higher incidence of domestic violence than white women. Hispanic women are less likely to be victimized than non-Hispanic women in every age group. Even more troubling is that 1 in 4 women will experience domestic violence in their lifetime, and four women die each day at the hands of a male partner or spouse in America.
Given this backdrop, I cringe now when I think back on Robin Givens’ explanation as to why she stayed with Tyson after her infamous 1988 appearance on The Barbara Walters Show.
“With Michael, I felt like I had a purpose. I really felt like I had to protect him and love him and convince him that the world can be an OK place—I wanted to love all of his hurts and all of his pain away,” she told Oprah in 2004.
Sadly, I suspect that years from now we may see an older, wiser Rihanna telling woeful tales about how she lacked self-esteem and how she wanted to save the bad-boy Chris Brown from his past as an abused child who also witnessed his stepfather beat his mother. That is, if she lives to become an older, wiser woman.
According to the police affidavit, Brown allegedly choked Rihanna until she almost lost consciousness. A recent column by Barbara Brotman in the Chicago Tribune states that men who choke women are likely to kill their victim at some point, and “it is a harbinger of potential murder.”
Having just lost a 52-year-old friend (with a now orphaned 17-year-old daughter), I hope that Rihanna will heed Oprah’s wise counsel: “If he hit you once, he will hit you again.”
Yes, Chris Brown is a victim, too, and he needs help. But it can’t come from Rihanna. He needs professional help. All she can do is wish him well. But she needs to let him go before it’s too late.
Sophia A. Nelson is a regular contributor to The Root.