Chris Brown Was Sexually Assaulted -- And He Deserves Our Sympathy

The following article first appeared on the Root. 

(The Root) -- Like most people with a modicum of common sense, I have long considered Chris Brown to be a pretty despicable human being. Besides his horrific assault on ex-girlfriend Rihanna, there was his almost total lack of remorse after the event, followed by a series of additional violent outbursts, including a notorious incident  at Good Morning America. (Here's a hint to Mr. Brown and anyone else trying to convince the world that he or she doesn't have an anger-management problem: Try not to get angry or act violent if someone asks you about your violent past.)

Making Brown's distasteful behavior all the more disappointing is that he's actually immensely talented -- a rarity in an era of lip-synching and Auto-Tune. But almost inevitably from the moment he opens his mouth to speak, either in interviews or on social media, he manages to overshadow his talent as a performer and remind so many of us why we can't stand him.

In his most recent high-profile interview, however, Brown did something surprising. He managed to win over some of his staunchest critics, if not as fans, at least as sympathizers, including yours truly.

In a recent interview with The Guardian, Brown was asked about his first sexual experience. He replied that he lost his virginity at 8 years old. Though the interviewer claims that he chuckled while recounting the memory, the article states that the girl to whom he "lost his virginity" was 14 or 15. Countless news outlets around the world have since picked up the anecdote. Most of them have run with some version of the headline "Chris Brown Lost His Virginity at 8."

Except, an 8-year-old does not "lose his virginity" to a 14- or 15-year-old. That is sexual assault.

Brown blithely dismissed the significance of his young age, blaming it on small-town life by simply saying, "It's different in the country." The fact that Brown seems oblivious to the reality that he was victimized speaks volumes about why he has grown into a young man so clearly confused about what constitutes healthy interactions with the opposite sex. But the fact that the media also seem oblivious to the reality that he was victimized is incredibly disturbing.

If a young female celebrity said that she had lost her virginity at age 8 to a 15-year-old boy, there would be outrage. Then there would likely be calls for justice. But Brown's story is further proof that when the victim is a young male, a sex crime is treated with a collective shrug.

Recently there has been extensive coverage of the tragic case of a Montana teen who committed suicide after being raped by her teacher, who ultimately received just a 30-day jail sentence. The National Organization for Women swept in to lead a protest against the judge responsible for the light sentence after the judge accused the victim of seeming "older than her chronological age." Yet there have been numerous cases in which female teachers are the sexual predators and manage to avoid jail time altogether. You can read about some of them hereherehere and here.

Need further proof that female sexual predators are not taken seriously? There is actually a website devoted to ranking the "Hottest Teachers Caught Sleeping With Students," which features photo after photo of fairly attractive female teachers accused of breaking the law.

Brown's confession about his sexual assault was not the only enlightening admission to emerge in The Guardian interview. Brown's recollection of the abuse that his mother suffered at the hands of his stepfather is also referenced and sheds further light on the troubled young man he has become today.

For the record, there are plenty of men and women who come from difficult backgrounds who go on to become law-abiding citizens who ultimately leave the world better than they found it. Oprah Winfrey, Mo'Nique and others have triumphed over childhood sexual abuse to become successful people who also happen to be decent human beings. Chris Brown's past is no excuse for his often-lousy behavior in the present. But it does explain a lot, mainly why he needs so much help.

As I have previously written on The Root, black men are those least likely to seek out mental-health resources. But Brown's story is a powerful reminder that it is often our men who are hurting the most. Here's hoping that Brown's startling confession helps change the way we as a society talk about male survivors of sexual abuse. Here's also hoping that the discussion Brown's confession has sparked inspires him to seek the help he so desperately needs. For the first time in a long time, I can honestly say I'm rooting for him.

Keli Goff is The Root's special correspondent. Follow her on Twitter.

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