Thursday, September 3, 2009

A bad time for defenders of abused women

By DeWayne Wickham

This has not been a good stretch for defenders of abused and battered women. First, they learned of Phillip Garrido. Then they heard from Chris Brown.

Garrido, a creepy 58-year-old sexual predator, was arrested recently on charges that he held Jaycee Lee Dugard prisoner in his back yard for 18 years. During that time, police say, he fathered two children with Dugard, who was just 11 when he allegedly snatched her from a bus stop in South Lake Tahoe, Calif..

Those children, both girls, are now 11 and 15.

Police say Garrido pulled off this heinous crime while on parole after serving 12 years of a 50-year-to-life sentence for kidnapping and raping a 25-year-old woman in Nevada. And they say that, with help from his wife, he was able to keep Dugard captive even after being sent back to prison for five months for a parole violation.

Garrido's ability to prey upon Dugard even while under the supervision of a parole officer — and, for a time, having to wear an ankle bracelet — has to be disconcerting to those who advocate on behalf of abused women.

And then there's this.

Not long after Garrido was arrested, Chris Brown turned up on CNN's "Larry King Live." The 20-year-old R&B singer was there with his mother and lawyer to try to repair his damaged image and resurrect his faltering career after pleading guilty to brutally beating his girlfriend.

The victim of Brown's attack was Barbados-born singer Robyn Rihanna Fenty, known as Rihanna. According to a police report, Brown bashed Rihanna's head into the window of the Lamborghini he was driving and beat her bloody after she questioned him about a text message he had received from another woman.

Brown copped a plea to stay out of jail. A Los Angeles judge sentenced him to five years of probation and six months of community labor, which she generously allowed him to do in his home state of Virginia. But to get back into the good graces of the radio stations that had stopped playing his songs — and of the fans who had abandoned him — Brown needed to offer up a convincing apology for his bad behavior.

The CNN show gave him that opportunity. But even with his mom and lawyer at his side, Brown made a far-from-convincing pitch for absolution. For all of his efforts to sound contrite, Brown had difficulty admitting to the stark details of the physical abuse he had inflicted on Rihanna.

At one point during the interview, Larry King asked Brown what he thought of the picture of Rihanna's battered face that found its way onto the Internet.

"When I look at it now, it's just like, wow, like, I can't — I can't believe that — that actually happened," he answered. "It's — it just really like took a toll on me."

Oh, really? So who does he want us to think is the real victim here, the young woman he beat to a pulp, or him — for having to see the damage he did to her?

When King asked Brown if he remembered attacking Rihanna, the R&B singer stumbled badly.

"No. I don't — I don't — it's like — it's crazy to me," Brown said. "Like I was just — I'm like, wow."

Wow is right.

Those answers must have made advocates for victims of domestic abuse cringe. Brown sounded more confused than repentant, more startled over what was happening to him than sorry for what he did to Rihanna.

All of this must leave a lot of women wondering what it takes for men who batter women — and for the criminal justice system — to understand the seriousness of this crime.

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