As horrifying as the recent events surrounding football player Ray Rice are, it is a good thing to bring conversations about domestic violence out from behind locked doors. For those that aren’t aware, Ray Rice is a football player with the Baltimore Ravens. In a video recently made public, Rice is seen punching his then-girlfriend to the point of making her unconscious. He then dragged her out of an elevator and left her in front of onlookers in a lobby. Rice is a classic abuser. He waited until he thought he was alone and could hit his victim behind closed doors. Victims are afraid of their batterers, and now that people have seen the video, hopefully this gives an idea as to why. I’m sure Palmer (girlfriend-now-wife) was terrified of getting Rice in trouble with the police or the NFL, but thankfully they weren’t alone, the cameras were watching. And now, so is the world.
Domestic violence isn’t a rare phenomenon in America. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, an estimated 1.3 million women are victims of physical assault by an intimate partner each year, and 1 in every 4 women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime. Unfortunately, these are just nameless facts and figures. Palmer is a real person with real problems. When this incident came to light, Rice’s teammates, instead of reacting in horror or shock, rallied around him to the point of this appearing on the team’s Twitter page: “Janay Rice says she deeply regrets the role that she played the night of the incident.” Hows that for standing up for women? Way to go NFL. I have to wonder what “role” was that exactly? Not running away from a man whose career is built on running & tackling? Not calling for help among his friends that clearly serve his interests? Not taking the stairs instead of the elevator? I also have to question why all the people in the lobby did not call police upon seeing this event. But that is neither here nor there at this point I guess.
Famous or not, this situation is exemplary of CLASSIC domestic violence. The beating behind closed doors, hiding behind money/friends/prestige, victim blaming. The elements are all there.
While many cheered the NFL’s move to punish Rice’s behavior, several media outlets fell into the classic mode of victim blaming. “Let’s not all jump on the bandwagon of demonizing this guy,” said Fox News contributor Ben Carson. “He obviously has some real problems, and his wife obviously knows that, because she subsequently married him.” While that is true, and horrifying to those of us not in violent relationships, there are MANY reasons for Janay Palmer (now Rice) choice to do so, none of which we are privy to. However the recent creation of stories falling under the hashtag #WhyIStayed can give us clues. Women and men have shared their experiences and detailed reasons they had for staying in an abusive relationship.
The reasons for this our many, and ones we ALL can relate to, abused or not: love, guilt, religion, children, shame, hopelessness, embarrassment, loyalty, exhaustion, gender roles, family pressure. lack of money, lack of friends, lack of family support, lack of confidence. depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, fear. fear of hurting the kids, fear of not being able to provide, fear of losing everything, fear of repercussions, fear of being hurt, litigated, belittled or killed. I think that while we all have not been in abusive relationships, it’s safe to say that most of us have endured our share of break ups or incompatible relationships and the reasons for staying in those situations can be very much the same. Unfortunately the internet is aflutter with opinions from people who view DV relationships as an Other. People who don’t understand, choose not to understand, by way of dismissing such relationships as easy to walk away from. It is no easier than walking away from any relationship that isn’t working but one in which you may care about the person still. DV Is not an Other. It is a common occurrence that happens to people we ALL know. Our dismissal & failure to acknowledge those around us who may be suffering does not help end its existence. Brian Pinero, director for digital services of The National Domestic Violence Hotline and LoveIsRespect, a program for teens and young adults, was quoted on CNN stating it takes an average of seven times for a victim to leave an abuser. The Rices have a child together, which most certainly plays into Palmer-Rice’s decisions. Those calling Janay Rice’s motives money driven may be off base but not entirely. She depends on the guy for support. She may not have an education, job training or people willing to take her in. More to the point he DOES have: job training, money, people willing to support his behavior. We as observers have NO Idea what has been said and done behind closed doors other than that one elevator. She may be angry at the media response for leading to her husband’s indefinite suspension from the NFL and the possible end of his career. She may also be fearing for her life and trying to salvage herself. NO one can blame her for this, Unfortunately unless this WAS a one time event and Ray Rice truly WAS sorry, the media circus around the Rice’s may simply be cause for more violence in the Rice home. (Ie see what YOU did, see what YOU caused) Batterers do not wake up one day understanding their behavior unless they have sought help to do so. Chances are Rice simply feels he did what she “made” him do.
Rather than criticizing Janay Palmer’s decision to remain and marry Ray Rice, lets ask some other questions: What support system does she have? Did the NFL/media/people around Rice in any way offer support and a safe place for her to go? Was Ray Rice given the impression that his behavior was wrong and that he would face repercussions from it? Initially the Ravens response was an appalling show of support for Rice and complete lack of disregard for Palmer. Thankfully what the media circus HAS done is hold him and them accountable for their responses. On September 8th, tThe NFL, faced with new evidence that proves Janay Palmer had no role in this incident, regardless of what she might have said to downplay it, are doing what they should have done after the first video showed her unconscious on a lobby floor and Rice admitted he had assaulted her. The Ravens just released Ray Rice and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell suspended him indefinitely. For this I commend them, but only for this. Their initial response to the situation must not be forgotten nor should the fact that the bad publicity’s effect on their team probably was the mitigating factor.
Janay, I know you’re upset with the world right now, but you need to know you have done nothing wrong. You are a victim. Ray Rice may be a man of power, wealth & fame…but his actions are still WRONG and he is NOT above consequences. I’m sorry for any embarrassment you feel and any suffering you may be facing. I hope this is your catalyst to seek help, and that should there be a next media circus, that it’s not around your funeral.