updated 10/09/2009 AT 11:55 AM ET
•originally published 10/09/2009 AT 1:55 PM ET
Robin Givens was a rising star in the 1980s when her famous husband, Mike Tyson, abused her. So she can relate to what Rihanna is going through now.
“It is so difficult to balance celebrity, being young and having this huge responsibility,” Givens, 44, told PEOPLE Thursday at Marshall’s “Shop Til It Stops” event in New York City’s Union Square to kick off Domestic Violence Awareness Month. “I was a baby. So I understand the pressure that Rihanna feels to speak out, especially when that camera is on you.
Givens says Rihanna – who hasn’t publicly commented on her abuse by singer Chris Brown – will find her way. “You do need time to figure your life out,” Givens says. “I do feel that if she speaks out about it people will listen to her. But she is young and I can imagine the pain and the confusion she is going through.”
Givens said Rihanna should take as much time as she needs to sort it out. Brown assaulted the singer in February, and was sentenced to six months of community labor.
“She has every right to take all the time she needs. It is very confusing because of what we do [perform], you feel that your life belongs to a lot of people but your life belongs to you.”
Time Does Heal
In 1988, Givens, then 23, and a star of the sitcom Head of the Class, married Tyson. Less than a year later she filed for divorce, alleging that he had physically abused her. Though she was quickly branded a “gold digger” and the “Most Hated Woman in America” in the press, Givens persevered. She has become an advocate for the National Domestic Violence Hotline and travels across the country speaking about the issue.
“People ask me why I do this, but I have gone through it and when I talk about it, I feel better,” she says.
The actress says she hopes more men to speak out on the domestic violence issue, and hails Jay Z for speaking out after Brown attacked Rihanna.
“I feel like Jay-Z really seemed to take a stand on Rihanna s behalf. I just love that,” says Givens. “I feel that one of the things that will help this domestic violence movement is when more men step up.”
As part of Thursday’s event, the mother of two boys unveiled an exhibit honoring those who take a stand against domestic violence. It features information about the cause and messages of support from celebrities like Jennifer Love Hewitt, Rosie Perez, Martina McBride and Chaka Khan.
“One day very soon everybody will be on board supporting this cause and taking a stand against domestic violence,” said the actress, who sported a purple ring in honor of the cause.
Givens says she is currently working on her second book and about to start work on a film in New York. She says time does heal and that her faith, family and yoga have helped her.
“I think a difficult time made me the person I am today,” she says. “I mean I am not perfect. But it did make me the woman I am.”
Givens will also miss her ex-husband’s appearance Monday on Oprah. She’s headed to the Caribbean with another pretty special man in her life. “I will not be watching,” she says. “I am going to be taking my oldest son and 10 of his friends on a cruise to the Bahamas.”
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