Against my better judgment, I watched the video released by TMZ of NFL football player Ray Rice assaulting his then-fiancee (now wife) Janay Rice yesterday. The video, captured last February, shows the Baltimore Ravens running back arguing with Janay in the elevator of an Atlantic City hotel and punching her in the face so hard she’s knocked unconscious.
I don’t follow football so it was my husband who told me that the NFL initially suspended Rice for two games after officials learned of his bad behavior. A mere slap on the wrist. Both my husband and I were appalled. We had a short discussion about the NFL and domestic violence and then I promptly moved on and forgot about Rice. Why should I waste my energy thinking about a spoiled, rich football player when I have my family and job to take care of? I’ve come to accept that celebrities and affluent citizens of our country live by a different set of rules. Why get upset over something I can’t change?
But my attitude changed yesterday. News about Rice’s brutality against his wife and his indifference to her limp, unconscious body lying on that elevator floor was unavoidable — and after the story broke, Rice was suspended indefinitely from playing in the NFL, as well as cut by the Baltimore Ravens. I usually don’t watch these types of videos, but for some reason I felt compelled to watch this one. I should have cared more back in February and not when the news was running rampant on Facebook.
Once you witness domestic violence you can’t unsee it. To protect ourselves, we either deny that it’s happening or claim it’s a private issue between the couple. Even worse, we blame the victim. We say things like She probably deserved it, or Why did she still marry him?
But here’s the thing: Domestic violence isn’t a private issue. It’s a huge problem in our country and around the world. The National Center Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) estimates that 1.3 million women are victims of physical assault by an intimate partner each year (PDF). Your neighbor might be a victim. Or a family member. Or even your best friend.
And then there’s the children to think about. According to NCADV, 30 to 60 percent of abusers also abuse children in the household. If those children are boys and witness the abuse (or become abused themselves), they are twice as likely to abuse their own partners and children as adults. Domestic violence is a vicious cycle that needs to be stopped. Do you want those boys to marry your daughters?
This morning Janay Rice released a statement in which she blamed the media for making her and her husband’s personal problems public and for taking away her husband’s job. My first reaction was, How can she still love him? But that’s the thing. Physical violence doesn’t occur during the honeymoon phase of a relationship. It starts with verbal abuse and isolation from friends and family. I have no idea what Ray Rice has repeatedly told Janay about her self-worth, her body, or her right to think for herself — but I have to wonder what she’s been through since their relationship began.
I spent a year volunteering for a rape crisis center. I can’t tell you how often victims blamed themselves when clearly it wasn’t their fault. Or how often I fielded suicide calls on our hotline because these girls and women did not feel safe talking to their own families.