Dr. Davidson urges the victim to take a close look at the abuser's behavior to determine if there's real change. Is he in a treatment program? Is he going for drug and alcohol counseling? Is he being treated for his depression? Or, is he mouthing off at work and getting into trouble? "You can't just give someone time," said Dr. Davidson. "You have to hear and see and feel change that you can touch."
Victims should not to try to rescue the abusers, who must rehabilitate on their own, says Dr. Davidson. Notably, most experts discourage couples therapy as a means to combat domestic violence. This is contrary to what viewers of the BravoTV series "The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills" witnessed when Taylor Armstrong sought counseling with her late husband Russell Armstrong. "Often she'll feel better and the abuser will put on a show, but afterwards, she's in great danger for sharing their deep secrets," says Smullens. "The cover that has been blown may lead to physical or sexual violence that has never been there before."
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In the case of Chris Brown and Rihanna, it's difficult to say whether he's changed. "It's interesting because for three years, Chris and Rihanna weren't together—so it's not like she rewarded him," says Dr. Davidson, who wonders if he'll take his notorious temper out on her again. "He's got to learn to handle things that don't come easy to him. That takes work, maturity, insight, behavioral change and commitment." Are Apologies Enough After Domestic Abuse?
National Dating Abuse Helpine CEO Purcell said in a statement, "We do not know the status of Chris Brown and Rihanna's relationship. We sincerely hope Chris Brown has taken responsibility for past behavior. People can change and we sincerely hope he has changed …"
Still, Jennifer Craunston, Supervising Attorney for the Pace Women's Justice Center, worries that a reunion between the two may send the wrong message. "I would hate to think that somehow the violence is minimized, especially when you have people in the spotlight that others look up to as a role model."
Expert Smullens agrees. "These are international stars. Most people … want to see the best for them. They want to see that happily ever after," she said, but warns that relationships rooted in the cycle of domestic violence "are never happily ever after."
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If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, please contact www.loveisrespect.org to connect with an advocate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You may also contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE or visit www.thehotline.org.