From Rihanna to Nicole Brown: How to Spot an Abusive Relationship

Sister of Nicole Brown Simpson calls for more conversation about abuse.

March 10, 2009, 9:54 PM

March 11, 2009 — -- The debate has raged in offices, school classrooms, subways, street corners and around the dinner table -- should R&B star Rihanna have taken Chris Brown back after he allegedly brutally beat her?

While domestic violence is a world many don't understand, experts say her actions are typical but dangerous.

Denise Brown knows the pattern all too well. She watched her sister, Nicole Brown Simpson, suffer repeated abuse, she says, at the hands of husband O.J. Simpson.

"I wish I would have known about the cycle of violence," she tells "Good Morning America." "I think it's so important for people to understand. ... It's a reoccurring thing."

Brown says the cycle starts with a chipping away of the victim's self-esteem before escalating into physical violence and ending with the "honeymoon" phase in which the abuser turns on the charm, apologizes and promises never to do it again.

But that cycle, she says, can be stopped.

"People can make choices not to hit, not to verbally abuse," Brown says.

Brown calls on the abuser and victim's communities to help stand up for the victim, to let that person know that it's not OK. She urges nonabusive men, stating that in 95 percent of cases the abusers are men, to stand up and say that abuse is not OK.

"Everybody needs to work together on this," she says.

As for Rihanna, Brown says she thinks even the superstar's choice not to request a restraining order, not to mention attempting a reconciliation, sends a bad message to teenagers who are following the story.

"I just hate to look at teenagers," Brown says, that they are likely thinking, "if she can go back, we can go back."

Celebrities Not Immune to Abuse

Rihanna wasn't the first celebrity victim of domestic violence, and she won't be the last.

Actress Robin Givens says she survived a tumultuous year of marriage to heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson.

"He said he was gonna kill and get away with it and that everybody loved him so much that nobody would care and I believed him," Givens tells ABC's Barbara Walters.

"Undoubtedly if a man hits you once he'll hit you again," Givens says.

It's a message even Oprah has tried to hammer home with a show on domestic violence scheduled to air Thursday.

"He will hit you again," Oprah said last week. "I don't care what his plea is. He will hit you again."

Experts say a woman is physically assaulted by her boyfriend or husband every 15 seconds in this country, and one in four women have been victims of domestic violence.

"There's a psychological element to women going back even against their own interests," psychologist Nando Pelusi tells "Good Morning America." "She may rationalize and say, 'Well, he's not an abuser."

Tina Turner accused her husband of 16 years, Ike Turner, of severe spousal abuse in her autobiography. And actress Halle Berry admitted she was hit so hard by a former boyfriend that she suffered hearing loss in her left ear.

Brown says that the media should cover domestic abuse stories more often, not just when celebrities are involved. She believes that would prevent incidents from occurring.

With four women dying daily as a result of domestic violence, Brown says she was shocked to see the image of an allegedly battered Rihanna and believes Chris Brown should be jailed.

Brown said fear and shame often keep abuse victims from leaving their toxic relationships.

Also, in times of a faltering economy, domestic abuse rates rise.

A 2004 National Institute of Justice study finds that the rate of violence against women increases as male unemployment increases. When a woman's male partner is employed, the rate of domestic violence is 4.7 percent. It rises to 7.5 percent when the male partner experiences one period of unemployment. It increases to 12.3 percent when the male experiences two or more periods of unemployment, according to the study.

A Personal Association

Brown says she learned her sister, Nicole Brown Simpson, was an abuse victim after reading her journals following her 1994 Los Angeles murder.

Nicole, who was the former wife of once-beloved football star O.J. Simpson, detailed her violent marriage in her diary. Her turbulent relationship was exposed publicly following an infamous 1989 New Year's Day beating. Police answered 911 calls from her home and found a beaten and frightened Nicole.

Eventually, Simpson pleaded no contest to assault charges and was ordered to pay $470 in fines in addition to paying $500 to a shelter for battered women. Simpson was also required to receive domestic violence counseling.

Later, Simpson would be prosecuted for his ex-wife's gory murder, but a California jury acquitted him. He was found liable for the deaths in a civil trial but has yet to pay the more than $30 million in damages to the victims' families. (Nicole Brown Simpson's friend Ron Goldman was the other murder victim.)

Following her sister's death, Brown began a foundation in her sibling's name that is committed to aiding domestic abuse victims.

Brown says many times women don't leave until the violence affects their children, and that victims return to their abusers between seven and 10 times before leaving their partners permanently.

And while many abusers claim they will change their violent ways, Brown says they have to want to change and get help for that to occur.

Domestic abuse isn't a mental disorder, but a learned behavior, according to Brown. Abusers need tools to learn how not to be abusive. Even with a good program, though, treatment plans will not work overnight.

Brown says an abuser would need at least three years in a treatment program.

For friends and family members seeking to aid a victim, Brown suggests they undertake extensive research on domestic violence so they can present the victim with the big picture.

For additional information on domestic violence, check out the links below.

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