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Tyra Banks tells Oprah of her own abuse

  • Story Highlights
  • Oprah Winfrey: Rihanna abuse allegations can be used to help other teens
  • Tyra Banks: Chris Brown says he watched his mother suffer years of abuse
  • Banks: Don't judge Rihanna harshly for going back to Brown
  • Banks says she was emotionally abused, begged mother to make her break up
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Oprah

(OPRAH.com) -- It's the story that has brought dating violence into the national spotlight. Police responded to a 911 call alleging domestic violence between singers Chris Brown and Rihanna last month.

Tyra Banks tells Oprah Winfrey about how abuse affected her.

Tyra Banks tells Oprah Winfrey about how abuse affected her.

Later that day, both pulled out of planned appearances at the Grammy Awards, and Brown turned himself into police. He was arrested on the suspicion of making criminal threats and was released on bail.

Weeks later, rumors of their reconciliation were reported.

On March 5, 2009, Brown appeared in court, charged with two counts of felony assault. His arraignment has been postponed until April 2009 while he remains free on bail.

Statistics say about one in three high school students have been -- or will be -- involved in an abusive relationship. "The message this story sends to teen girls and boys everywhere is disturbing, and it is also dangerous," Oprah Winfrey says. "We need to try to evolve from this moment ... use this as a moment to allow our society to begin to grow."

Oprah believes this story can be a teaching moment for every teen and parent. "Love doesn't hurt," she says. "And if a man hits you once, he will hit you again." Oprah.com: 10 questions to ask your teens

Over the past few years, talk show host Tyra Banks has interviewed both Brown and Rihanna. "Rihanna told me her parents used to argue so intensely, she used to get these headaches, these migraines that were almost not even treatable with medicine," Banks says. "The moment her parents separated, her migraines went away."

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In his appearance on The Tyra Banks Show, Brown said he watched his mother suffer abuse from the time he was 7 years old until he was 13. The abuser was not his biological father. "I treat [women] differently because I know I never want to go through the same thing or put a woman through the same thing that the person put my mom through," Brown told Banks.

When Banks first heard about the alleged incident, she says she didn't believe it -- until the police report was released. "I went back to that interview and I said, 'Oh my God, he's repeating [the cycle of abuse].'"

Tyra cautions against judging Rihanna for going back to Brown. "Sometimes we hold these celebrities up to a higher standard, but we have to look at her as a human being and understand that she is no better or no different than any other girl," Banks says. "She is just as easily pulled into the cycle of abuse of going back."

"I think we need to send love to both of them," Oprah says. "For him to be healed, and for her to be healed also." Oprah.com: 4 ways to heal after a tragedy

Banks says she knows the cycle of abuse all too well. While in her 20s, Banks says she was emotionally abused. "He never hit me, but I would say there were blows to my spirit, blows to my emotional well-being every day," she says.

On the outside, Banks says no one could see the signs. But behind closed doors, she says he was jealous and blamed her for his bad moods. "He was a master at being able to be happy and nice to everybody else but whispering these negative things to me," she says. "I'd start complaining to my friends, and they're like: 'Well, he's fine, girl. He's fine with us. Everything's fine.'"

Although she was one of the top 10 models in the world at the time, she says her self-esteem sunk lower and lower. "I stayed because I felt like if I left and he didn't change and didn't treat me how I felt I deserved to be treated, I was a failure," she says.

One day, Banks says she finally confronted herself. "I walked to the mirror in his bathroom. He wasn't there," she says. "Out loud I looked in that mirror and I said: 'Tyra, who are you? What the hell are you doing? Get out of here.'"

Although Banks says she tried to leave her boyfriend many times, she managed to get sucked back into the relationship. At one point, she says she turned to her mother for help. "I said: 'Mama, please, just take me. Pull me out of this relationship. Tell me to leave him. Hole me up in your house. Unplug the phones. Protect me from him.'"

Her mother refused. "[She said:] 'You have to do this on your own. I will be here as somebody to support you in this. But I will not tell you to leave, and I will not cut you off from him, because you'll just run out in the middle of the night and go straight back.'" Oprah.com: How to make an exit plan

Dating violence doesn't just happen in Hollywood. It can take place in any neighborhood -- including yours.

Friends say high school senior and cheerleader Charney Watt was one-of-a-kind.

"She was very intelligent. She made good grades. She had a spunky attitude and was very energetic," says Charli, a friend. "She was also a leader in her community, and being a cheerleader, you have to influence other people. She influenced people at school and also in her neighborhood. You know, if she [had] seen you looking sad, she would come ask you what's wrong and make sure you're okay."

On March 1, 2009, police say the 18-year-old from Charlotte, North Carolina, was gunned down by her ex-boyfriend.

Charney's ex-boyfriend Gary Daniel has been charged with her murder and has not yet entered a plea.

Her friends say they saw no signs that she was in an abusive relationship. "When she came to [cheerleading] practice, her personality overcame all of that," Charli says. "She was just herself."

Keisha, Watt''s friend since the eighth grade, says Watt's boyfriend used to come to all of her games. "He used to come and see her cheer and come with her mom," she says. "We always thought he was a supporter, and he was a sweet person to her."

Now that they've had to bury their close friend, Keisha and her friends hope others will learn from Charney's experience. "We're hoping that Charney, what happened to her, people will look at it and realize that this type of situation isn't for you," Keisha says.Oprah.com: Meet more women who are struggling with dating violence

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