I didn't think it could get much worse than the "Rihanna deserved it" T-shirt -- but then it did. Late Thursday, TMZ published what purports to be a photo of a battered Rihanna taken shortly after the pop star's alleged beating by boyfriend Chris Brown. The disturbing photo shows the bruised face of a pained woman who closely resembles the singer. The Los Angeles Police Department didn't confirm its authenticity but quickly opened an internal investigation to see if the photo was leaked, since "the photograph has the appearance of one taken during an official Domestic Violence investigation." But by Friday morning, the photo had already appeared on the home page of Gawker, Huffington Post, New York Daily News, New York Post, Newsday, Perez Hilton and Star. Plenty of other outlets, like ABC, published the photo alongside an article about the image.
Despite the fact that the photo is so widely available, I can't bring myself to even link to it, because it seems like such a sickening violation of Rihanna's privacy. I realize that it seems a quaint thing to say in an age when the general public feels entitled to see stars' every wart, wrinkle and sex tape -- but this celebrity was beaten. If the photo is authentic, it's evidence of the crime allegedly committed against her. It's a violation against someone who has already been violated. Worse yet, it announces that female celebrities should avoid pressing charges in cases of domestic violence -- maybe even rape -- lest they want to share their bloodied face with the world.
Gawker has already defended its decision to publish the photo as a public service of sorts: "[There has been] a full spectrum of speculation about the case. Though unsettling, the evidence of Rihanna's injuries settles at least some of that guessing game. One result of this: underlining the seriousness of an attack that many people have sought to minimize." It's true, there has been plenty speculation about whether she was, you know, just smacked around a little bit or violently beaten, as though the former doesn't qualify as domestic violence. The photo certainly silences Chris Brown fans' attempts at diminishing the alleged attack -- but so what? The case should be tried in the courtroom, not the court of celebrity blogs. Oh, I know, what an outdated idea.
I suppose there's a hint of silver lining: It's possible that the photo will spark a national conversation about domestic violence. But shouldn't Rihanna get to decide whether she becomes the literal poster child for the cause?