Ray Rice Incident Teaches Us 3 Things About Domestic Violence

Ray Rice

"It's never, never, never the woman's fault. No man has a right to raise a hand to a woman....This whole culture for so long has put the onus on the woman. What were you wearing? What did you say? What did you do to provoke? That is never the appropriate question."
-Vice President Joe Biden

By now you've probably seen or at least heard about the video of now former Baltimore Ravens player, Ray Rice, punching his fiancee (now-wife), Janay Rice, in an elevator. It's graphic, disturbing and wrong.

I have mixed feelings on whether TMZ should have released it. On one hand, it's a horrific moment that became a portion of the public's entertainment. On the other hand, it's holding Ray Rice accountable. After all, it was the release of the video that got him kicked off the Ravens and suspended from the NFL indefinitely. Plus, it's starting a much needed conversation about domestic violence--a complex issue.

In this post, I'll focus on the much needed conversation part. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence says 1 in 4 women experience domestic violence in their lifetime. Yet the reaction of many who blamed and judged the victim (Janay) instead of looking at the root problem of a horrible issue affecting 25% of women, indicates our society doesn't know enough about domestic violence.

Here are three things I hope society learns as a result of this conversation:

1) Domestic violence is a complex cycle
It's a natural reaction for any person who has never experienced domestic violence or perhaps is in a healthy relationship to judge Janay Rice (or any victim) for staying with an abuser. This is looking at the story at the surface level though. At the root of abuse is power and control which is acted out in a manipulative cycle which can be difficult for the victim to get out of. The abusers' tactics start way before the first punch. Madame Noire does a great job explaining this cycle, stating the abuser often starts by isolating the victim from the ones who love him/her most, making them feel the abuser is the only one they have. After the explosive event happens (physical, emotional, verbal, or sexual abuse), they follow it up with an apology and perhaps an excuse, bribery or blame. Things often go back to normal and the victim starts to believe it won't happen again and that the abuser's apology was genuine. Because they're often isolated, the victim's loved ones are probably unaware of the abuse and unable to give the victim encouragement to leave or support to help make it happen.

2) #WhyIStayed teaches us to have compassion for victims, not blame them

The focus should be on "Why did he abuse?" not "Why did she stay"? However, a really eye opening Twitter conversation started with a domestic violence survivor, Beverly Gooden, answering the latter, offering readers insight into why leaving can be so difficult. Mostly women chimed in, used the hashtag and gave their testimonies, although let's not forget--men can be victims too. There were a variety of #WhyIStayed reasons like: loving him; not wanting to be homeless; believing he changed; not wanting him to kill her; and having low self-esteem. Here is a list of must read #WhyIStayed tweets.

3) There is a lot of work to be done to solve the problem of domestic violence

I believe it starts with society and families teaching both genders that women are equal and deserve autonomy and respect. Every time kids hear objectifying language, see hypersexualized images of women or witness a man encouraged for his dominance over a woman, it contributes to the misogyny often at the root of domestic violence. There also needs to be more resources for victims. This shouldn't be a battle they fight alone; they should have access to experts and support.

Vice President Joe Biden said it well to TODAY's Tamron Hall:

"The next challenge is making sure, ironically, we get college presidents and colleges to understand that they have a responsibility for the safety of women on their campus. They have a responsibility to do what we know from great experience works. Bringing the experts. Provide people, give the young woman the support that she needs. Psychological support. the medical support, and if need be, the legal support. Societal changes taking place. It takes time. But I really believe it's taking root, and we have an obligation to just keep pushing it"

1 Response

  1. So well written Alex Wehrley, it’s interesting stuff! Thank you for diving so deep into this and sharing the perspective.