Jen Thorpe
Jen Thorpe

Should we forgive Chris Brown?

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 domestic violence had been reported between September 2010 and December 31 2010[iii]. This is an average of about 8 873 cases a month. So during the 16 Days of Activism, one can estimate that more than 4 000 cases of domestic violence will occur. On the day he will perform, about 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 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 on a wound. But, those in favour of Brown remind us, he apologised. 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, so should we. 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. 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 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, mothers, friends. 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



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  • Masculinity and violence against women
  • UFS clash was bound to happen sooner or later
  • Neoliberal capitalism is a violence against women (16 days of activism)
  • Remembering Mandela the feminist
    • The dictator to save you from yourselves

      We should always forgive. But we don’t need to be idiots and forget.

    • Graham

      Whether or not you personally choose to forgive him, I don’t think he cares. I wouldn’t waste my time despising him.

      Regarding his sentence of community service, this is the fault of the American justice system. He did not really have a say, and is therefore unfair to hold that against him.

      I do not care for this music, or for his abusive behaviour. But to sit with unforgiveness towards a man that I have never met, well, that takes energy and time that I don’t have.

    • djtari

      wow why are you so judgmental! , he did wrong, he reformed and apologized and did time for it ..Should we stone Chris Brown for your satisfaction? I take it u never at fault, never have to apologize yourself because if you are human you would know we all have faults.

    • Paballo

      Not a Chris Brown fan but what more do you want from him? How dare can you profile someone like that do you have evidence of him being a serial abuser? Isn’t it suitable that an ex-abuser like him should be part of the campaign or awareness as atonement or example to other potential abusers? Can we just move on, please!

    • Noko

      Yes we should take his appology seriously and if there is furture rehabilitaion needed for him, let’s hope he takes it. In the mean time, he is not the eppitome of example. Infact he can’t even be used as the least example.

    • WTF

      Rihanna has also publically admitted to physically assaulting him.

      She has clearly forgiven him, as they are back together apparently.

      Your points are meaningful, but you have chosen the wrong example.

      This is akin to the council of churches protesting over Lady Gaga. It is what happens when these groups lose focus, and ultimately their dignity.

    • michael

      Brown is a misogynist, and i find it strange that so many commenting here are so forgiving.Sometimes culture blinds us to objectivity.

    • Lesego

      Is this racial hatred of Brizzy or what. Charley Sheen was a serial abuser but no one boycotted Two and a Half Men cos well no one knew about it cos hes white right?

      “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!””

      You choose to be biased against Chris on the twitter spats although hes not the one who started it. Are you being sexist and racist or what?

    • Lesego

      “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!””

      How do you suggest he respond to such a blatant attack towards him, knowing very well that he’s really tired of this and trying to move on. I have this feeling that you think black people don’t deserve emotions.

    • Juju Esq.

      One should forgive if the perpetrator has redeemed them-self. If they continue their anti-social behavior, appropriate action must be taken.

    • The Critical Cynic

      Yep, I have to agree with Graham on this one Jen – I’d rather be on the side of forgiveness than be unforgiving. However, I think you are correctly pointing out a serious flaw in our society, the propensity to pay lip service to political correctness and be dishonest about how we really feel, especially when it is now deemed to be wrong. We are a bigotted global society if ever and the JZ’s and Chris Browns of the world epitomise the problem.

    • Territc

      He has done his punishment. He has apoloigzed and his victim has forgiven him. Get over it. What exactly are you achieving by holding on to your own grudge. There are millions of abusers out there but they continue to abuse and get away with it. Right here in SA, why are you not fighting the battle against them. You insist on holding onto vengenance on someone in the US who has served his time, but you do nothing about the abusers in SA. How many of them have we read about in the papers and do this day they walk around, free unpunished people. Just because he committed a crime, and taken his punishment, doesn’t give anyone to the right to continue to abuse him. He is trying to move and he should be allowed to do so.

    • Territc

      In today’s news, there is an artilcle about a man who raped a 13 year old and is now a free man due to a legal error. Why are you not out there, fighting for this little girl and making sure this man takes his punishment?

    • Maanda

      There is nothing sexist about what he was replying to an offense from a female. If it was man he could have said “suck my d!$k ma-faka”, which is an expression thats being everyday in the movies and the music we listen to.

      I dont have an opinion on whether he has changed or not, and I believe he should’ve been more involved in fighting causes of abused women than he is.

    • Momma Cyndi

      I have no problem boycotting Brown because he is a lousy musician. My only problem is the double standards we employ.

      If Sean Connery came to SA, would you complain? Despite his idea that a woman needs a slap or two to ‘keep her in line’, I can pretty much guarantee that he’d be welcomed. Same thing with Tyson. Rapist and wife beater of note but a bloody good boxer – would we boycott him?

      If sisters are going to stand together on this then we need to make sure that we are consistent. If we can get this idea of making ALL abusers feel unwelcome here (including our home grown ones) then count me in.

    • gcoekmrorg

      Garret good point!!!

    • Jen Thorpe

      Summary of comments so far:

      – it’s not your place to forgive
      – you wouldn’t have written this if he was white
      – move on and do something about South Africa

      Just in case you didn’t want to read them. Which I didn’t. But did, in the hopes that there would be one sensible one.

    • Billie

      Perhaps if you weren’t so self-righteous and judgemental,you’d get a calibre of comments you’d be happier with? Personally, I choke on your sanctimony every time I read something you write. Just sayin’

    • WTF


      That is a lousy last comment to people who take the time to read what you write, and then express a different opinion.

      If these opinions are so nonsensical, then kindly justify yours.

      It takes a big person to admit they made a mistake. You are doing your cause a disservice by showing a complete inability to interact with your readers. Perhaps, you should write for a blog with only like minded followers.

      PS: You did not want to read the comments?! Why would you blog on TL at all then? There are hints of arrogance in your writing that have now been confirmed by your comment. Sad, because your cause is so worthy.

    • NATE IV
    • RITA

      LOL!!!! @ jen I understand ur frustration. But the is nothing sensible about your idotic article. They all cant be wrong. How naccristic of you to beleive that you are not capable of having a shitty opionion LOL!!!!

    • suntosh

      Interesting unpacking of the issue, Jen.

      During these 16 Days of whatever, I will probably see a fair amount of abused women at the hospital wherein I work. Most of them will still be abused in the month ahead, largely because of economic dependence and not wanting to break up a nuclear family. The former is the hardest, given low literacy levels, unemployment, etc. etc.

      Forgiveness, we could argue, is what keeps the cycle of abuse intact. It starts the “honeymoon” phase of a relationship all over again. Eventually, the cycle continues to the point of slaps and punches and verbal abuse. And back to “please forgive me”.

      Forgiveness can be psychologically soothing; abuse, obviously, is psychologically damaging. These tensions are also part of an abuse cycle. How does one escape it?

      These 16 Days have the right philosophy; but there isn’t enough practical here-and-now support for an jobless abused women with 3 kids and nowhere to go should she report her abusive partner.

    • Juju Esq.

      The comment – “you wouldn’t have written this if he was white” never ceases to amaze me. Its like a default comment who some people have nothing constructive to say. They obviously did not read how objective your article was. Its really time those who see a white racist behind every bush get a life and move on.

    • Kanthan Pillay

      Jen: who is the “we” you speak of? I certainly don’t subscribe to a collective mindset.

      Two points i believe:
      * Violence in the context of a power differential is unacceptable and rule of law requires that be crushed
      * Anything that consenting adults do is their right, no matter how repulsive I personally might find those actions — boxing as an example

      If Rihanna had pressed charges, I believe Chris Brown should have been locked up forever. If she finds the stuff he did to her acceptable, I might think she’s an idiot, but it’s her right to do so.

      Let’s stick to rule of law and we will have a just society. Moral claptrap such as forgiveness should be left to the pulpits.

    • Momma Cyndi

      Jen Thorpe,

      don’t you just wish you could beat us all into your way of thinking? How dare we have a different opinion!

    • Zeph

      Zeolots cannot tolerate different opinions. You, Jen Thorpe, are a zealot; and for this reason I refuse to take you seriously.

    • Em

      I cannot believe some of the comments I am reading here. I find it utterly depressing that so many people still support someone who resorts to violence against women. Yes we can consider forgiving someone for their behaviour, but do we really need to put them up on a stage and continue to idolise and support them?
      Considering the pop music that Chris Brown produces appeals mostly to teenagers we should really consider the message we are sending to our youth… it’s ok to beat up your girlfriend as long as you say sorry afterwards???
      There are so many other artists that deserve our support, please can we give them some airtime instead!

    • Em

      Also… I find it interesting that many churches in South Africa protested against Lady Gaga yet are completely silent on Chris Brown. Lady Gaga preaches love for all people, of all races and all religions. Chris Brown was arrested for violence against women. Seems to me like slightly skewed priorities.

    • Lesego

      @NATE IV, thanks for the links

    • Garg Unzola

      Should we forgive Chris Brown? Has Chris Brown done anything to cause us harm, and if so, has he done enough to make amends for it?

      I’m more disappointed that there’s enough of a market for Chris Brown’s brand of music to ensure that his personal wife beating escapades are nothing but a pop star commodity. Like a stint in rehab, or an impish pet, or an outlandish dress sense, his wife beating is just another one of those character flaws a tortured artistic soul must endure for our sake. It’s marketed as a sacrifice.

      Does this affect South Africa’s issues? Chris Brown is on tour here so this is a topical issue and an ideal time to raise woman and child abuse. I agree with the comedienne: Chris Brown appears like an extremely compromised individual and his reaction towards her just amplifies this impression.

      I disagree with the author’s viewpoints in most cases, but in this particular case I am compelled to agree. Chris Brown is a thug and serves as a role model for thuggish behaviour. Better yet, he causes thuggish behaviour to become socially acceptable and deemed inevitable. Just one of those ‘boys will be boys’ traits, nothing to worry about. Or is it?

    • Juju Esq.

      Ha, ha, ha Zeph. Ha, ha, ha,…I don’t think Jen is a zealot, but if she is, judging by some of your comments on other threads on Thoughleader, it would certainly be the pot calling the kettle black.

    • Sean

      I would avoid seeing Chris Brown because I do not enjoy his music and avoid condemning him for a situation about which only he and Rihanna know the whole truth.

      But then I am quite content with my life and do not feel the need to start a crusade about every perceived injustice which reinforces my perception of the cause I have chosen to champion.

      Ultimately I believe that life is too short to look for a cause to get upset about, I pursue happiness, not misery.

    • NATE IV


      Your welcome

    • Zeph

      @Juju would be surprised!

    • Lesego

      @Garg Unzola, for your info, Brizzy was 18 when he committed the violence and he wasnt married yet, as it seems that you think we are talking about a wise old man here.

    • Garg Unzola

      Beating your high school sweetheart is not some reckless youthful ignorant act like drinking too much and puking on your mother’s carpet. Are you suggesting that at the ripe old age of 18 it is common for any decent human being to merely not have figured out that putting your girlfriend in hospital is perhaps frowned upon?

    • Lesego

      No garg

    • Lesego

      No garg I hav a problem wit u constantly calling him a wife beater I thought maybe you not aware of the age of the person they talkin about

    • Keep it up!

      Jen asked a question – should we forgive him ? – and provided a perfectly sound rationale to her argument, but her “public” has responded as if attacked personally. Clearly we share different worlds out there. For some, trading foul-mouthed insults publicly is amusing and self aggrandising – for others it is just plain tacky and disgusting. For some men, smacking a woman around is ok. For others, it is anathema. For some women, getting smacked around may not be nice, but they deem themselves so worthless that they actually “deserve” it. Others “have” to tolerate is because of financial reasons, while others still will up and leave. Just think where we would be as women (and men) if we did not have champions such as Jen who fought for our rights and the changes that they have brought about – to our benefit – such as the right to vote, have control over our own finances, and protection before the law, to name but a few. Who, for example, would protect our children if not for activists like Jen who campaign tirelessly about child abuse and actually get laws changed and behaviours revisited. Was the Women’s march feminist “nonsense” as well? Jen’s piece is much bigger than Chris Brown, and it’s sad to think that people are not able to see that. Activists are indeed irritating at times – that’s their job – the conscientise us and often we don’t like it. But they get more done for the betterment of humankind than the armchair critics out there.

    • Sean

      Activists may achieve a lot, but there is one think they will never achieve, personal happiness, they are angry people looking for a cause to put right, spouting their version of right without any consideration for the perspectives of their chosen opponents.

      My wife has a temper (she is a red head), when she loses it the result is often violent. She is not happy about it and always regrets it afterwards. Luckily she is much smaller than I am and I am normally able to control her, though I have had a black eye from being caught by surprise. I have learnt not to fight back, either verbally or physically as in a temper she will not back down and it is up to me to defuse the situation. When not in a temper (most of the time), she is the most incredible person on this earth and I am madly in love with her after 20 years together. She is a loving and devoted mother and wife who I know will be by my side through thick and thin, and we have been through thick and thin. Honestly, I feel very lucky to have her and her temper is just a small negative we have to deal with every once in a while. This is my perception, though I am sure if it was me with the temper I could not control, there would be plenty of the opinion that she should leave and would destoy what is otherwise an incredible relationship.