Should we forgive Chris Brown?

Jen Thorpe
Jen Thorpe

By Jen Thorpe

On social media this week there has been some outrage at Chris Brown holding a concert in South Africa. In particular the outrage is that this event is taking place during the 16 Days of Activism to end violence against women[i], and that Chris Brown is a confessed perpetrator of domestic violence against pop artist, Rihanna. After public pressure and a legal process was placed on Brown he publicly apologised for the abuse, and underwent community service (including picking up litter, cleaning a children’s centre, painting, washing police cars etc[ii]). He did not go to jail.

South Africa’s domestic and intimate partner violence levels are incredibly high. The South African Police Services presented to Parliament in November 2011 that 35, 495 cases of DV had been reported between September 2010 and 31 December 2010[iii].  This is an average of around 8, 873 cases per month. So during the 16 days of Activism, one can estimate that over 4000 cases of domestic violence will occur. On the day he will perform, around 266 cases of domestic violence will be reported.

Remember again that many women do not report, and many women who do report are unable to access the protection orders that they are entitled to because of failure to understand the process, failure to be informed of their court date, loss of faith in the justice system, or economic dependence on the abuser[iv].

So it is understandable that spending money on a perpetrator of domestic violence and allowing him to perform during a campaign that aims to highlight violence against women is like pouring salt in a wound and has caused frustration. But, those in favour of Brown remind us, he apologised. Surely we should just move on. One person on twitter asked ‘why should he have to face a public jury’?  He admitted it. Rihanna might be getting back together with him. If she can forgive him, shouldn’t we?

Let’s unpack these points, beginning with the easiest – Rihanna forgives Chris. This argument goes like this – if Rihanna forgives Chris, his domestic violence should be forgiven and forgotten. Rihanna forgives Chris, so we should forgive and forget. It is a logical form of argument, and reflects society’s inclination to stay out of the personal business of others. Let us leave them to themselves it says. They’ve sorted out their issues, so we can all move on. He punched her repeatedly in the face. He said sorry. She forgave him. Now move on everyone.

For me this sits uncomfortably. It speaks to olden days where people argued that what went on in a home was not the affair of others. A man could ‘discipline’ his wife or girlfriend, and this wasn’t for people to judge. Domestic violence has historical roots, and perhaps why this is why we feel so comfortable letting it slide. We, at some level, think it is a private affair. Somewhere deep in our recesses we are asking – what did she do to deserve it? Wanting to forgive Brown’s actions just because he said sorry is what we want to do, so we can move on, and not have to think about what we’d do if it happened to our sisters, mother’s, friend’s. His apology allows us to forget.

The second thing that sits uncomfortably is that we’re all ignoring how often physical abuse is accompanied by psychological abuse that makes the victim believe they deserve it, or that nobody else will ever love them, and is followed by regular and frequent apologies. Domestic violence perpetrators are manipulative. As a result of this many women repeatedly go back to an abusive relationship, despite the despair of their friends and loved ones. The victims of domestic violence also ask themselves that uncomfortable question – what did I do to deserve it? When you love someone, you want to try and forgive them. You want to believe that they hit you because it was an accident, not because they are trying to control you or break you down so you won’t leave them.

Unfortunately, most domestic violence is not a once off incident. That’s why South African legislation makes it possible for women to get protection orders to keep the perpetrator away. Our law recognises that when women report, it’s probably not the first time they’ve been beaten.

Brown’s online behaviour replicates this. He has repeatedly taken down his twitter because he has continued to say sexist, violent and abusive things. Only this past week, Brown posted a picture of himself saying “I look old as fuck! I’m only 23…” When Jenny Johnson, a comedian who regularly antagonises Brown online replied “I know! Being a worthless piece of shit can really age a person” Brown replied “take them teeth out when sucking my dick hoe!” There are already blogs on twitter that point to the fact that she shouldn’t have antagonised him so often – that go back to my earlier explanation that we want to believe ‘she deserved it’ somehow.[v] He is a pathological, quick to throw out verbal abuse, and clearly his abuse of Rihanna stems from a much deeper hatred of women.

It seems clear to me that although Brown did admit and apologise for his actions, this was because he was facing legal action and extreme public pressure. He as the perpetrator, and Rihanna as the victim, were both in a limelight that most victims and perpetrators are not in. Unfortunately their actions took on the level of allegory, and the message we’re left with is – you strike a woman, just say sorry, keep calm, and carry on. I don’t buy his apology, and the recent twitter spat is only one example of why.

But what about other perpetrators? Should we ever forgive them? I would love to hear what you have to say.

[i] The 16 Days takes place between the 25th of November and 10 December.


[iii] The Parliamentary Monitoring Group. “Domestic Violence Act implementation: Department of Police briefing”

[iv] Lilian Artz. 2011. Fear or Failure? Why victims of domestic violence retract from the criminal justice process. Page 7




16 thoughts on “Should we forgive Chris Brown?”

  1. I don’t think the fact that Rihanna forgave Chris Brown gives the public any less reason/right to judge the situation for themselves. I think your reasoning for why people seem to argue the opposite is dead on, it allows us to ignore this massive and uncomfortable issue. If the issue of domestic abuse only affected Rihanna and Chris Brown then sure, they could be the last word on the debate.

    Some twitter responses to the incident were truly sickening, many young girls tweeting ‘I’d let Chris Brown beat me any day!’ and ‘I wish Chris Brown would punch me’. (
    I wish he has acknowledged these reactions and publicly said, I made an awful mistake, I’m getting help for anger issues, if a man ever does hit you then report it, etc etc. But he didn’t.
    He shows no signs of remorse, as shown in multiple (actually all of his) tweets and public statements…for instance at the Grammy’s: “HATE ALL U WANT BECUZ I GOT A GRAMMY Now! That’s the ultimate F**** OFF!!” (Because obviously winning a music award absolves you from any negative feedback over smashing a woman’s face). And the infamous responses to Jenny Johnson, describing how he wanted to ‘shit and fart’ on her. In turn his fans tweeted things such as “@JennyJohnsonHi5 whore bi*ch. if chris kill you i will have more respect of him” (from a female fan) and “@JennyJohnsonHi5 I’M GONNA F*CKING RAPE & KILL YOU OLD WHORE F*CK.”

    The fact that he has female supporters (or any supporters at all) in a country where 1 in 4 women have experienced domestic abuse makes me sick to my stomach. There are many examples of women-abusers who have sought help and changed, but Chris Brown is certainly not one of them.


    1. Also I forgot to mention that I really do believe that Rihanna had a responsibility to discuss these issues with her fans, many of which are young girls.


      1. She has discussed it serveral in the past. Pls do your research. It happened 4 years ago, it doesnt define her. She understands the way the media twists things she sad she doesnt want to be the poster child of DV.


      2. I have done my research. She is still in a relationship with a man who abused her and she is a public figure, so yes it is her responsibility to talk about it. I didn’t say it defined her. The media did not twist the police report of her abuse.


      3. My God, it is her personal life, because she is a celebrity doesnt mean she is not entitled to her choice, the earlier we stop seeing celebrites as infallable role models the better for us. The are both human and entilted to their chocies on whom to love, the fact that you will never forgive ur abuser doesnt mean it is wrong for her to forgive hers, everybody is diffent. She has refused to be branded a vctim. It is high time we all move on. Sean connery and josh brolin`s wives remined with them after they where arrested for domestic abuse. Didnt hear all yall talk about it. I may not approve but it is her choice and she is entitled to one.


  2. Thanks for this. I had a friend challenge me on fb last week when I posted Rebecca Davis’s piece at the Daily Maverick about Chris Brown. One of the other arguments often thrown around is the difference in how he, as a young black man, is treated by the media in comparison to how other known abusers and offenders (Sean Penn, Roman Polanski) are treated. But for me the point is that Brown continues to exhibit a shocking lack of remorse even though he apologised. (For example, in his exchange with Johnson, he tweeted at her to ‘ask Rihanna if she’s mad’). He doesn’t seem all that sorry, and bouyed by the support of his mother (who is herself a survivor of GBV) and his fans, he feels safe to flaunt that lack of remorse rudely, loudly, aggressively. That is what sticks out for me, and, I imagine, for others who write and comment on him constantly. Which is not to say that Penn, Polanski etc. are not as objectionable. I object to the idea that because he is black (and yes, will experience racist coverage) we should let his repated BS slide.


  3. A white racist in south africa, move on pls. Rihanna has moved on. Enough of this publicity stunt. If you dont want to be there, alot of us will be there and we wouldnt miss you at all. He has paid for his crimes and I beleive in forgiveness. You are no saint yourself. Tired of all these hypocrites that troll this earth.We need to teach forgiveness and change. MOVE ON!!!! Are you God that determines who should be forgiven. Your ego is too big. Nobody cares if you forgive or not. You are more bitter than the vicitim. Move on. You wouldnt be saying all this if he was white. Where were you during Apartheid. You are enjoying SA due to your folks invasion of it, judge ur lineage before judging other. HYPOCRITE!!!!


    1. I’m sorry, but if you’re going to disagree then please try and form a better argument than ‘Nobody cares, your ego is too big, you’re a hypocrite.’

      Also being white does not remove me from the debate on domestic violence. Thinking so is small-minded and ignores the bigger issue.


      1. So you dont think you are small minded by supporting the way Jenny johnson carried on twitter, As a feminist I beleive u should be appauled by the way she bullies people most especially women on twitter.Pls I still call you a hypocrite cause I am tired of people castigating others and preaching unforgiveness, I can care less of Chris brown, but it is important we learn to forgive and move on. And I repeat if he was white we wouldnt be here. I am yet see or read any piece from you on the many white celbrites that are prepertuators of DV.You proved how mypoic you are by saying, yes it is ok to be a cyber bully but no to domestic violence. Yes it is ok to be disrespectul to others but no no to DV.If you are going to preach unforgiveness pls form a better argument with good points, all I see from your article is copy and paste. Stop being self righteous. You seems to have delibrately ignored my comments on apartied and the role ur likes played in it. Again I say HYPOCRITE.


      2. You said “and I repeat if he was white we wouldnt be here.” Thus your argument is that people, or perhaps I as the author of this post, would not have critiqued him if he was white. I think my article disproves that, and your distinction between the two crimes is irrelevant.


      3. Like are you for real? You main focus on castigating Chris brown was on DV I will expect you to have written alot about white celebrities who have committed DV Multiply times like Charlie Sheen, John Lennon, Sean Penn, Michael Fastbender, Sean Connery, Mel Gibson, Gary Oldman, Glen Campbell, Josh Brolin, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Tommy Lee Jones and you are talking about Roman whose crime has nothing to do with DV. A lot of white celebrities have provided a massive source of castigation against DV and u single out CB who has only one history of DV as the poster boy for DV and you call urself a crusader against DV. It is easier because he is young and black. I will have expected YOU to picket movie premiers of Sean Penn and all others and written a petion to Dstv against airing Charlie Sheen`s sitcoms or Playboy South Africa for he front cover feature. Your stance is laughable. As a result of the bandwagon effect of the media, you have chosen to join the bandwagon by focusing on CB to create a name for yourself. Roman was in the media when he was captured in Switzerland, you didn’t write about him when he was given an life time achievement award at the Zurich festival in Switzerland, u only remembered his crimes when the media has sensationalized the issue after his capture.!!! HYPOCRITE MUCH!!!Yep now my distinction between the two crimes is not irrelevant because it doesn’t agree with Ur warped sense of reasoning. For you the is is a distinction to the fact that CB is guilty of DV, while Jenny Johnson is not guilty of bullying and harassment. But you choose to make Jenny Johnson the victim in this issue. If you have done an extensive research on CB you will find out that he has done more for DV than all of you put together, he has raised more than twenty million dollars thru his Symphonic Love Charity and has positively influenced alot of abused women and children by hs art school and programmes. He is a loose canon that has to work on his anger and the way he handles issues, but it is difficult to stay positive if all people see about you is a mistake committed four years ago and not you redemption progress. If he was your brother you will think differently. I am not a fan of Chris brown, but a fan of change, positivity, belief in ability to change and not judgmental self righteous hypocritical bigots.


  4. Woh!!!! My God you are indeed a hypocrite, you lost me when you drum UP support for what Jenny johnson did to Chris brown on twitter. Probalby because she is white. Ok it is ok for her to be a cyber bully and troll, it is ok for her to be vile and use gutter laungage but I understand your opionion, the only crime in the world is DOMESTIC VIOLENCE!!! Which is an unforgiveable crime!!I dont support what chris did I felt he should have ignored her but the fact that she has sent him 119 vile tweets in the past, means she is no differnt from brown, and you are no different if you cant see how wrong she is by what she did. The same woman who constanly sent Kim karadsian clips of her sex tape on twitter. Isnt KK a woman wasnt that a violation of her rights. As long as it is brown Kill him!!!! Everybody else s innoncent. PLS!!!!


  5. Pumla Gqola (black South African feminist) – “I am not convinced that there is a good way in which a woman beater can be supported. We simply cannot have it both ways: claim we want to end violence against women at the same time that we swoon over men who violate women. We should make Chris Brown unwelcome in South Africa if we are serious about ending the siege under which women live.”


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