Domestic violence activists condemn gov’t support of Chris Brown concert

–say proceeds should fund awareness programmes

Women rights groups and activists have roundly condemned the government’s support of the upcoming Chris Brown concert, saying that the administration is not serious about effectively addressing the increase in domestic violence when it supports a man who has been convicted of battering his partner.

While some believe that Brown’s visit–set for December 26 for the ‘Unforgettable 2’ concert—could be used in a positive light, like for sensitization about partner violence, others are strongly against the US artiste entering this country to entertain.

The now 23-year-old R&B singer was convicted of battering his then girlfriend— R&B singer Rihanna, who is of Guyanese and Barbadian parentage–and he was sentenced to community service and ordered into anger management sessions.

Chris Brown

Recently, the country has seen an upsurge in the incidents of domestic violence and women are not only being battered and maimed but many have lost their lives, with the most recent case being that of a Goodverwagting resident, who was brutally stabbed to death on Sunday night last by her partner.

The government on Thursday announced that it will be giving tax breaks for the concert, which is organised by Hits & Jams Entertainment, and acting Minister of Tourism Irfaan Ali praised the expected appearance of Brown and said his presence at the concert will be a pull factor for persons to Guyana.

Contacted via cell phone, Minister of Human Services & Social Security Jennifer Webster indicated that she was out of the country on official business and would address the issue with this newspaper early next week.

“As the grim situation on domestic violence has become a staple part of Guyana’s everyday life and landscape, I believe that having a known abuser perform, gives credit to him and sends an unspoken message that it is okay to beat up on your wife or girlfriend and still stay popular and famous,” Sukree Boodram, of Caribbean American Domestic Violence Awareness (CADVA) and a survivor of domestic violence told Stabroek News yesterday when contacted.

Sukree Boodram

She feels that there are many other entertainers who would jump at the opportunity to come and perform in Guyana and who have great respect for women.

She further said that to have Brown perform in Guyana is tantamount to a slap in the faces of victims and their relatives.

However, another survivor of domestic violence, social worker Nicole Cole, feels that the artiste should be allowed to perform if the proceeds from the concert are used to set up a revolving compensation fund for victims of domestic violence.

Cole, a member of the Women & Gender Equality Commission, said the organisers can also use Brown to target men and let him talk against intimate partner violence and that they should not attempt to solve problems by bashing in their partners’ faces.

“Any government that is caring and responsible and has the citizen’s welfare at their heart will want to ensure that women are ably cared for when such tragedies occur. Slitting of throats, hammering, dousing with acid and burning…these things are happening. The survivors need to have compensation,” Cole said.

She said while Brown is a big star, “we can’t erase the fact that he was punished for intimate partner violence.”

Cole said there is need for more sensitisation of men and Brown can be used for this purpose, instead of him “only coming to dance and sing,” since women continue to be slaughtered in the most vicious manner.

‘Taxpayer funding’

Nicole Cole

Meanwhile, activist Karen De Souza of Red Thread, said she would not contest Brown’s right to come to Guyana and perform but she questioned the government using taxpayer’s money to support such a venture.

De Souza, who has spent many years of championing women’s rights, also said that the question that needs to be asked is what is being promoted by such a concert.

“Are we promoting that an abuser can have a comeback?” she questioned.

She confessed that she does not know much about Brown’s music and she pointed out that he has paid the penalty for his crime in his home country and as such it is a difficult issue for her, since on the one hand he has faced penalty. But on the other hand she is unsure as to what the concert would be promoting.

Importantly, De Souza pointed out that taxpayers’ money is not used to support local artistes.

Margaret Lawrence, Head of the radio serial Merundoi, which has been placing significant emphasis on domestic violence, said Brown’s visit can be used positively as his music could be used to educate men about domestic violence.

Karen De Souza

“He can have a positive message for men against domestic violence. We can’t support gender-based violence,” she said.

She pointed out that taxpayers’ money is being used and Brown’s famous face should be used to fight against domestic violence.

“But if it [Brown’s visit] is not making a positive statement against gender-based violence then it is a waste of time and money,” she stated.

‘Negative message’

Meantime, Boodram pointed out that any governmental or non-governmental body or organisation making decisions where a person that is a known abuser is being showcased to the public in a positive way, “definitely sends a negative message to our people of Guyana.

“If this is a decision I would have made, regardless of any benefits to our country or others, I would not engage a known abuser in my community.”

Declining to address the tax breaks given by the government, Boodram said that the main issue is that those “who represent our beautiful country made a decision or approved an individual who is an abuser to enter our land to entertain our people, while he himself has left a trail of bloody marks and abuse on a beautiful woman of Guyanese heritage, Rihanna.”

Margaret Lawrence

“The fact that we are allowing a publicly known abuser to enter our country is blatant disregard and disrespect to our people and the cause we claim to want to eradicate. That cause is domestic violence,” Boodram said. “What kind of signal does this send? It says that ‘bringing wealth into Guyana’ is more important than the safety of the nation’s women. It says that talking out of both sides of your mouth concerning violence against women is justified so long as everyone can dance.”

‘Boycotted not promoted’

In her weekly Stabroek News column, Stella Ramsaroop, Chairperson of the S4 Foundation, an organisation that focuses on encouraging women to help other women, weighed in on the issue, stating that whenever there is domestic violence act committed against a woman, the government would charge that there too many bad role models today. “Yet the government proudly parades around a criminal woman beater for our entertainment,” Ramsaroop asserted.

Ramsaroop believes Brown should be boycotted instead of promoted, pointing out that the news of his visit right now is exasperating since October is dedicated to domestic violence awareness.

“Even worse, when Chris Brown arrogantly struts on to the stage in December, the nation – being led by the government – will just be wrapping up their annual 16-Day Campaign Against Violence, which begins on November 25, International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and ends on December 10, Human Rights Day,” she pointed out.

Vidyaratha Kissoon

She stated that the murders and beatings will continue for as long as we continue to pretend that it is just “fine for a man to mercilessly beat a woman as long as he can get up dazzle us with a song and dance.

“The decision to bring Chris Brown to entertain Guyana is a slap in the face to every single victim of domestic violence in country (and there are many). Just imagine the government parading around a father who brutalises his children every night or the woman-beater whose wife cowers in the corner he beat her into. This is exactly what the government is doing by bringing in Chris Brown to perform,” Ramsaroop concluded.

‘No sustained funding’

Also addressing the issue, human rights activist Vidyaratha Kissoon, in a letter published in today’s newspaper pointed out that the government and the private sector cannot provide funding to sustain the domestic violence programmes needed to rehabilitate men like Chris Brown.

“It appears that the Government of Guyana and the private sector and many of the fans of Chris Brown want us to forgive Chris Brown for this mistake. This is what many survivors of domestic violence are told… forgive the abuser. Many times the survivors do so, over and over and over again and often to their peril,” he pointed out.

Kissoon called for all proceeds from the concert to be donated to the work being done in Guyana against domestic violence.

“And Chris Brown should spend time in jail in Guyana, with the men who have made similar ‘mistakes’ and brutalised the women they have loved. Chris Brown should work with the men to learn about the behaviour and attitude change needed for recovery,” Kissoon suggested.

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