How Robin Givens Broke Free From Domestic Abuse – and What She Would Tell Rihanna

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Oct. 11 2009, Published 1:00 p.m. ET

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Robin Givens doesn’t mince words when asked what she would say to those who are hesitant to leave an abusive relationship during Marshalls Shop Til It Stops event to benefit the National Domestic Violence Hotline held in NYC’s Union Square.

“Your life is in danger,” she tells me, chillingly.

On Monday, her ex-husband and batterer Mike Tyson will appear on The Oprah Winfrey Show. He will share his recollection of what occurred before and during their 1988-1989 marriage.

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In this exclusive interview, the twice-divorced former Head of the Class star, 44, tells all about how she escaped, how the experience changed her outlook on men and how she raises her sons Michael, 15, and William, 10, differently. Plus, she shares her thoughts on why Rihanna could return to Chris Brown after his brutal Grammy Eve attack, and what she would tell her now.

How do you feel about Michael appearing on Oprah Monday?

I think it’s great. Michael was such a hero, and to many people, he still is. We’re all a work in progress. There was a time I remember when Michael did an interview, and said the best punch he ever threw was against me. It was the first time he hit me. He remembered it exactly. He hit me on the head, and I went bouncing from one wall to another, and then I was out.

It was interesting for me to have him remember it and recite it so vividly, so I guess I stand here before you hoping that he owns up to what he did. I think you can, in life, move forward. He’s a father and a husband. I think so many people look up to him, but I do hope he is honest about what occurred. I think it would be helpful to a lot of people.

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How did you break free from your domestic abuse situation?

I can talk to you and still remember one of the last times. I have a scar from that day when things were going on, and he was throwing plates. There were a bunch of us who were hiding in the laundry room, a place we often went. Me, my sister, my mom, somebody who worked for us. It was a familiar place where we would go. My sister, who was sort of the exact opposite of me, always seemed so cool and calm and collected. My younger sister. I always wanted to grow up and be like her. She was crying profusely. Just crying.

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That triggered something in me. There was a time when I didn’t feel like I could do something for myself. I think you lose touch with your feelings. You actually become very, very numb, but I could do it for her. I could do it for the people in my life when I felt that I had caused pain for them. I think if it had just been me, it would’ve been longer for me, but I didn’t want them to feel the pain.

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What would you tell Rihanna if she wanted to get back together with Chris Brown?

I always find it difficult for me to comment on these situations because I remember there was a time when people would comment on my life, and they had never met me. They’d stand there and talk, so I’m always careful to do that. But I can talk about me.

I can say that I was the same age, in a very public situation. It is something you have to figure out on your own. I have to say that I understand how you can go back. I do understand. The first time I was hit, I wasn’t married, and I went back. It becomes your project to fix this, and make it right, and make their lives okay. They really have to work on themselves by themselves before you can really engage in a healthy relationship. Know that before you make any decisions.

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When I see that picture of her, I think “this is unacceptable.” We can’t say “what did she do? What did she say to him? Was she looking at his phone?”

And I use her name now, but somebody is going through this right now. It’s unacceptable.

What would you tell someone who is hesitant to leave a situation because of their shared kids or pets?

Your life is in danger. I met a woman when I was speaking in San Jose recently who hugged me. She was crying. She said her daughter had been killed. She said “you’re so lucky,” which is something my family always tells me. So no matter how difficult my life got, I realized “I am here.” Denise Brown said that to me. “You’re here.” I’m here, and I did have a man say to me “I can kill you and get away with it.” I believed he could kill me, and get away with it. I would say to them that you can do it – however difficult it seems, however alone you feel, you’re not alone. And to try to take the first step to move in the right direction.

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It’s a weird thing that happens because you actually feel the person who’s doing this – you feel so close to. They’re the only ones who know what they’re doing. You don’t have to explain it. It’s really weird.

I would say to them that you deserve and can have a good life, but chances are, it’s not going to be with that man. And just try to take the first step in the right direction, and then the next step will present itself.

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Having been through the abusive situation, how did it change your outlook on men?

Oh, men, life … we all suffer from the same thing. When people say "why do you speak?," I really do it for my own healing. It’s like my own therapy. I think there was a time when I removed myself. You get so numb. It’s hard to feel again, and trust.

I know my children were a big part of my healing because I began to see the world through their eyes. I look around and say, “Everything is pretty good.”

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I think that as I’ve grown up, and my children have helped to grow me up, I say, I can  make better choices. So I love men. laughs I want to get married again one day. I want that great situation, too. But I know now how to protect myself and I do know certain signs, and I know certain things that I’m not going to accept.

What are the signs in the beginning? They talk about stopping it before it starts.

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Well, I grew up without my father. I know how I got into the situation. I thought when a man I was dating took me and put me up against the wall and grabbed me, and said “you’re going to be my woman,” I thought “wow – he must really love me.” If he would drag me into the car, I would say “whoa! He must really love me.”

You know. Those things for me – the imbalance of it all – are signs. The excessive jealousy – I couldn’t have an A.D. assistant director call my house to give a call time. I would say the jealousy. The feeling you get when you’re unsettled – when you feel that something’s wrong. The alarm really goes off inside of you. Pay attention to that alarm. You know when it’s not right.

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Your sons, Michael and William, are growing up. What do you teach them?

Man, I am determined to give the world two good husbands and fathers. I am determined. We talk a lot. My oldest son will be 16 next month. He’s 6’2.” My ten-year-old is stronger than me now. I think we have to talk about how you handle yourself when you’re angry, and what’s acceptable and what’s not acceptable. That’s why I say especially now with kids growing up – certain things are not acceptable. We have to draw the line. We can’t make the line vague or blurry.

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Final thoughts?

I want to say to any woman out there – zero tolerance. I don’t care what you do. I don’t care if you read his BlackBerry, I don’t care if you yell too loud, I don’t care if you have a big mouth. I don’t care. There’s never any reason for a man to hit you. It is unacceptable.

I want to say to any woman out there you are not alone. And to all the young women listening, you just deserve good love, and a good life, and to love yourself and to feel worthy.

This interview occurs 33 hours after I later find out family friends have close connections to an Ohio couple who met a tragic end in which the man is charged with killing his 33-year-old fiancée. According to reports, she died of blunt force trauma, and a TV was knocked over near her body. She is found dead at 3am on Oct. 7; the event takes place at noon on Oct. 8.

October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and Robin Givens has teamed up with National Domestic Violence Hotline and Marshalls for the annual Shop Til It Stops program. For every pair of shoes purchased at Marshalls from October 1-15, $1 will be donated to the National Domestic Violence Hotline.


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