When a police photo of a badly bruised Rihanna first surfaced three weeks ago following an alleged beating by her boyfriend, the singer Chris Brown, fans reacted with dismay and outrage. But now reports in Us Weekly and People magazines have sown even more confusion among her fan base: the latest reports say the pop sensation has reportedly gotten back together with Brown.
Psychologists say that it is not unusual for a victim of abuse to return to the abuser.
"There's a psychological element to women going back, even against their own interest, " said Dr. Nando Pelusi, a psychologist in New York City. "Domestic violence happens across all people all cultures, and all socio-economic backgrounds."
Almost 4.8 million cases of physical assaults and rapes of women by an "intimate partner" are reported yearly in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control. About half of all female victims of such violence report an injury of some type, and about 20 percent of them seek medical assistance, according to the National Crime Victimization Survey.
Psychologists say many victims stay in abusive relationships partly as a result of a kind of post-traumatic stress known as battered women's syndrome.
Pelusi says there are many different kinds of abuse, and the picture is not always clear cut. "Women tend to go back when the picture is nuanced ... she may rationalize and say he's not an abuser. "
Experts say some women don't leave their abusers because they think the violence was somehow their own fault, or they are afraid their abuser may harm them or their children. But when it comes to younger women, the reasons can be even simpler. They sometimes think the abuse is normal because they haven't had many relationships to compare it to.
"I didn't know that this wasn't healthy," said Jessica Lee, a young victim of a violent relationship. "I didn't know that this wasn't like every other relationship was."
Lee found herself in an abusive relationship for two years. It started with verbal abuse, but ended when her boyfriend burned her with a cigarette.
"You don't realize that you're in that kind of situation when you're in it. You don't realize that that's what you're going through because if you did realize, you wouldn't be there. You wouldn't be in that situation, you wouldn't have stayed. "
She now counsels other young women to aware of some of the potential warning signs of dating abuse, like posessive boyfriends or girlfriends who are constantly checking up on their partners, with obsessive phone calls and text-messaging.