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Diahanne Rhiney
Domestic Violence: Watershed Moments of the past 5 years

HIGH PROFILE: Rihanna and Chris Brown

TINA TURNER, Mike and Robin, OJ Simpson. These were the names behind the defining Domestic Violence (DV) moments of the 1990's. Whilst they were all American examples, as black Europeans we are highly influenced by African-American events. Most of us were thrilled to see a black man inaugurated as president in our lifetime and it was viewed as a 'one giant leap' moment for the global diaspora.

The same is also true when awful events unfold. As the African proverb goes, 'rain does not fall on one roof alone'. From civil rights to gangs and police brutality, British lives and opinions are often shaped, understood and echoed by the African-American experience.

The release of Tina Turner's biopic movie 'What's Love Got to Do With It' was the first time we had seen the domestic abuse of a global superstar played out before our very eyes. It was cinema at its most ground-breaking and heart-rending. Women who had silently spent years feeling 'weak', were reassured by seeing that a woman synonymous with strength had also been a victim of DV. Mike Tyson and Robin Givens were the power couple of the 1990's. They were also the first famous African-American couple to openly reveal the DV in their marriage before a nationwide audience. OJ Simpson's alleged murder of his wife Nicole Brown Simpson prompted a massive debate about domestic violence and injustice for victims. It was the most publicized criminal trial in American history.

I'd like to take an opportunity to trace some of the watershed moments of the past five years and the important role they have played in shaping the domestic violence conversation.

1. Chris Brown and Rihanna

This 2009 incident is now so well-known that I barely need to elaborate. The image of Rihanna's bloodied and bruised face went viral and we were presented with a real life example of DV in the younger generation. We had thought of DV as something that was happening behind closed doors and between married middle-aged couples. Subsequent debates about Chris Browns sentencing, his career (given his demographic was largely teenage girls at the time) and Rihanna's noticeable lack of outspoken opposition to DV were crucial. It placed a spotlight on the new face of modern DV; the young, rich and beautiful superstars our children admire and emulate. In recent years, the Home Office Statistical Bulletin has stated that the age group most at risk of DV in the UK are young women between 16 and 24. In the few years since, Rihanna's photograph has gone from being a shocking example of DV amongst young women, to a very normal one.

2. Ray Rice and Janay Palmer

In 2014, TMZ released shocking footage of 200lb NFL star Ray Rice assaulting his fiancé Janay Palmer in an elevator and knocking her out. Surveillance video showed Rice dragging her out of the elevator and dumping her face-first on the ground. As a result, the NFL faced a major backlash over their handling of DV and the issue was thrust back into the national spotlight. Janay stayed with Ray and insisted that she had played a part in provoking the attack. They later got married with Janay maintaining that Ray is 'the best husband'. Her decision was judged by the General public, which prompted research into the realities of black female DV victims who stay with their abuser.

3. #WhyIStayed

By September of 2014, the knock-on effect of Janay Rice's decision was the global conversation about why women stay in violent relationships. Robin Givens spoke to Oprah about her own reasons for staying with Mike Tyson, empathising with Janay. Givens also explained that 'this conversation will never be the same,' in reference to social media, technology and the hashtags #WhyIStayed and #WhyILeft. The hashtags appealed to thousands of DV victims and survivors who shared their reasons for staying with, or leaving, their abuser. Givens said 'You can't hide it so much anymore. I think of my experiences if it had been on tape. Those elevators, being dragged through the hallway - if that had been on tape, then it's a different conversation all of a sudden."

4. Earl Hayes and Stephanie Moseley

In December 2014, Rapper Earl Hayes walked into the bathroom where his wife, Stephanie Moseley, was soaking in the bath and shot her up to 12 times. Moseley, a well-known backup dancer and reality star on VH1's 'Hit the Floor,' died at the scene. When police arrived at their Los Angeles home, Hayes shot himself. TMZ reported that he had suspected his wife of cheating on him and carried out the brutal murder-suicide during a phone call to Floyd Mayweather. This was another watershed moment within the diaspora and society as a whole. A talented young couple were both dead and DV was once again the cause.

5. Ashley and 'Murdered by my boyfriend'
Arguably the best, and certainly most harrowing, drama of recent years was BBC3's domestic violence drama 'Murdered by my boyfriend'. The 60-minute film drew on interviews with the real victim's friends and family to tell the true story of how a confident, bubbly, vibrant girl fell in love with a man who eventually beat her to death on her bedroom floor. Much like Tina Turner and Rihanna, the film tackled age-old DV stereotypes with director Paul Andrew Williams saying: "It was very important to us that we showed that Ashley went out with her friends, she enjoyed life, she had a job. It's too easy simply to portray domestic violence victims as cowering in their homes but the reality is more complicated. Many victims seem to be living a happy and fulfilled life, but it's a very different story behind closed doors." Unlike Tina Turner and Rihanna, however, Ashley was an everyday British teenager. She could have been our own daughter, niece or friend. The debate about DV amongst our young generation had once more been opened up in a distressing but very necessary way.

The culmination of these events and conversations led to intensive research into Black women and DV. Time magazine was one of the first to report that African-American women are almost three times as likely to experience death as a result of DV than white women. Subsequent studies by organisations such as UKFeminista showed the UK to be following much the same pattern with Black and minority ethnic women experiencing a disproportionate rate of domestic abuse and homicide.

These five events show us how much Domestic Violence has grown and changed in just five years. Because of that, our conversations must continue to grow and change in order to remain relevant.

This Wednesday is S.W.I.M's highly anticipated event, 21 Questions. We've gathered together a panel of dynamic women and invited all of you to join us so that we can continue some of these conversations together, as one.

The past five years have opened up new wounds, sparked new debates and opened our eyes in new ways. Let's take these horrific moments from our recent history and make them count. Let's talk about DV.

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