Traditional psychotherapy almost never works because batterers typically don’t have a mental illness that responds to treatment. And, since they usually haven’t been abused as children, abusive men can’t work through that experience and move on. In fact, abusers often twist therapy into a tool for excusing their behavior, since they “are sometimes masters of the hard-luck story.”
Instead of wasting one ounce of pity on Chris Brown, let’s think for a minute about his value system and what may feed it. “If you’re surrounded by people who also treat women as objects who are supposed to serve men, then your behavior will be reinforced,” says Mark Larson, a longtime domestic violence expert, who directs the Responsible Fatherhood Initiative for the consultancy David Mandel and Associates. I don’t know who Brown hangs out with, but I doubt they are feminists. As for the effect of the recognition that’s implicit in his invitation to sing at the Grammys: “It doesn’t send the message that changing your behavior is important,” says Larson. “What abusive men have to hear is that we’re going to judge you on what you do about your behavior, and to the degree you don’t change what you’re doing, we’ll hold you accountable.”
I know that awards are given out for artistic merit, not charming personality, and we can debate whether you can safely love the art and not the artist if you’re a fan of Brown’s music. But the decision to ask Brown to perform at music’s biggest event of the year is of a different sort. That’s a warm embrace from his industry and his community. You can’t shun someone you’re clapping for. You can see Brown basking in the glow of approval—the only ugly way he seems to know how—in his tweet calling his Grammy “the ultimate FUCK OFF!” This is not a week in which Brown had to reckon with his critics much, because the affirmation he received came from a far more powerful source.
Larson says that while batterers aren’t like addicts, in the sense that they usually don’t have a chemical addiction or imbalance, they are similar in that they don’t change unless they’re ready to change. “You have to believe that the downside of what you’re doing, or the upside of doing things differently, is worth it,” he explains. Specialized intervention programs for abusive men have made inroads in changing their reoffending patterns where regular therapy has not. But batterers have to decide to commit to such programs in order for them to take effect.
It is really hard to imagine that Chris Brown is in that kind of mood at the moment. Or that other abusive men watching him are either. The statistics have held depressingly steady: One out of every four American women will experience violence by a partner in her life, and three out of every 100 men have severely assaulted their female partners in the past year. Chris Brown and the Grammys aren’t responsible for those numbers, of course. But this week they missed a chance to make them any better.