Domestic Violence. These two words seem to be lost in translation in our world today. Society has always had a funny way of handling domestic violence. Less than 40 years ago, DV was something that was not publicized. It was something that took place behind closed doors and was rarely spoken of. If you were beaten, you hid this fact from family and friends. Domestic violence did not flood our media and those that suffered carried a secret alone. Thankfully, times do change and people eventually find their voice. Slowly, DV became something that was okay to talk about. This topic became less taboo and those who were affected started to fight back. Our media eventually started incorporating stories of DV and the individuals who decided to take a stand. Organizations such as the National Coalition against Domestic Violence, the National Network to End Domestic Violence, Futures Without Violence, No More, and the Battered Women’s Justice Project, have developed over the years to raise awareness for this very real problem. In 1994, Congress passed the Violence Against Women Act, which plays a very important role in educating and protecting those who fall victim to DV. It would seem that we have come a long way from the days of domestic violence being a “bad word.” Although this may be true, as a society, we have become desensitized to what domestic violence means and how it affects millions of people every year.
Why am I bringing this issue up? Yesterday, the whole country erupted when the video of Ray Rice beating his then-fiancé in an elevator was leaked by TMZ. Baltimore is my hometown and I am a die-hard Ravens Fan. Baltimore takes its football team and the players associated with it very seriously. We are known as some of the most loyal fans in the NFL. As I watched the video yesterday I was appalled and heartbroken. I was overcome with a feeling of despair and I was immediately filled with anger. The emotions I felt were not just because Ray Rice was a Baltimore Ravens RB, a public figure, and an advocate for anti-bullying. No… The feelings I was experiencing came from a much deeper and dark place. It was more personal for me… The truth is, when this incident first hit the media, we were all made aware that Ray Rice had assaulted his fiancé Janay. After weeks of speculation, Janay Palmer made a statement of her own in which she apologized for the part she played in the incident. The public saw video footage of her blacked out on a casino floor. That image in itself was enough for me to know that something horrible took place on that elevator. I didn’t need to see the actual punch to feel disturbed by Ray’s actions. However, court terms were met and the public graciously accepted the PR-scripted apologies from both parties and everyone seemed to dismiss what had happened.
The biggest issue I have with yesterday’s outburst is that everyone seemed outraged and taken aback by what they saw on that video. However, this is something that was not a surprise. We all knew that some form of physical assault had taken place that day. Ray Rice publicly admitted to it and Janay admitted she played a part as well. The NFL, the Ravens and the general public were made aware of what had happened months ago. Why did it take actual video footage for people to become outraged and for the NFL and the Ravens to take a more serious stand? I really don’t care what the circumstances were and I don’t care who saw the video and who didn’t see the video. For me, a horrific act took place and it was brushed under the rug and forgotten about because of who Ray Rice is. Football fans everywhere have been debating back and forth on the details of this case:
- Did she hit him first? (The video shows her swatting at him while approaching the elevator).
- Did she deserve it based on her actions? (Why would anyone feel like an eye for an eye is appropriate when dealing with domestic abuse?).
- Who saw the video and why didn’t the Ravens ask to see it? (You need a video to help make conscious decisions?).
- Why did Janay marry him and why is she defending him now? (I will touch more on this later on).
- Did the NFL and the Ravens handle this situation appropriately? (No).
- Did the justice system fail us? More importantly, did the justice system fail Ray Rice, his wife, and their daughter Rayven? (Yes).
There are so many accusations and excuses being thrown around about this particular situation. However, the key factor that should be highlighted in all of this has been dimmed due to other less important factors. Ray Rice and Janay are two people affected by DV. If I were to base my feelings solely off of what I saw in that video, I would have to say that Janay is a victim of DV and Ray Rice’s actions were absolutely disgusting. Should Janay have swat at him the way she did? No. Did that action alone give Ray the right to punch her in the face twice which led to her being knocked unconscious? Hell no. That video showed a man who had no second thought about hitting a woman. It showed a man who had no remorse after he saw his then-fiancé lying unresponsive on that elevator floor. It showed a man who is obviously no stranger to physical violence. That was not the first time he hit her. I can assure you of that. Do I think that Janay is innocent in all of this? No, I do not. In that particular situation, yes she was a victim. However, her public statement would suggest that she is no stranger to physical violence either. It is a great possibility that the two of them have engaged in some form of domestic abuse before. It is a possibility that it is something they both struggle with. This is the issue that everyone should be focused on.
Nearly one in four women experience violence by a current or former spouse at least once in their life and, on average, three women are killed every day as a result of domestic violence. Statistically speaking, more than 80% of victims of domestic violence are women and these women come from all different kinds of backgrounds (I am aware that it affects men also and this is just as awful, but it affects many more women than men). So many people have an opinion on why someone would stay with an abuser. I even catch myself sometimes wondering why anyone would make a conscious decision to stay with an individual who beats them. I have to remind myself that this is not something I should pass judgment on. The truth is, there is no one answer as to why a woman would stay with a man who beats her. Anyone who has never experienced physical abuse at the hands of a spouse believes there can only be one reason they would stay and then damn them for that reason. She stays because she is weak, she stays because she has no self-esteem, she stays because she has no money and no job, and she stays because she thinks she can change him… The list goes on. As a society, we look at these women and these reasons and we just can’t believe they choose to stay. In our minds, there is always a way out. Right? If it ever happened to you or me we would get out as soon as the first hit took place. We wouldn’t stand for someone who put their hands on us. Although this may be true for a select few, how can anyone say what they would do in a situation they have never experienced? Furthermore, how does anyone know how they would feel and what excuses they would come up with in order to justify an unjustifiable situation? The answer is: we don’t know for sure what we would do. I applaud anyone who is firm in their beliefs that they know themselves well enough to know they would never give a second chance after the shocking blow of the person you love raising a hand to you. So we can speculate that Janay stayed for the money, and for all we know that could very well be the truth. It could also be that she has not realized her own worth; maybe she thinks she can change him. It is also a possibility that she struggles with anger herself and has raised her hand to her husband in times of rage and feels like she is no better than he is. The public will never know their personal struggle. We will never know the full extent of their issues and quite frankly we shouldn’t. It is an issue that they need to figure out together and hopefully, with counseling, they will.
Instead of spending time crucifying every party involved (the NFL, the Ravens, Ray Rice and Janay), we should be focusing on the epidemic of domestic violence. Since the news broke yesterday, I have seen outrage towards the NFL and the Ravens. Why are we not focusing more on how DV is handled in the court system? That video was shown to the attorneys and the judge on the case. That video should have played a bigger part in sentencing. According to recent reports, the NFL also saw the video. This is something that should have weighed heavily on how the situation was handled. I do believe, however, that because of the celebrity level in this case, it was handled much differently than it would have been had it been someone not in the public eye. This is where the justice system has failed us. More importantly, it should not have taken a video of DV to spark outrage over what had happened. Both parties admitted to engaging in domestic violence. This alone should have been enough for something more serious to be done. From the very beginning, this particular situation was handled badly. We can go round and round on who is mostly at fault and who made the wrong call. Bottom line, everyone involved was wrong.
At the end of the day, these are two very real people. Sadly, their actions not only affect them but will also affect their daughter. An innocent little girl will be constantly reminded of who her daddy is and what he did. She will be able to watch a video of the exact moment her daddy punched her mommy in the face. Rayven will suffer the most in all of this and this burdens me more than anything else.
The Baltimore Ravens are not the only team who has a player with a history of domestic violence. In fact, most teams have at least one player convicted for DV. They seem to be making an example out of Ray Rice and that is really okay in my opinion. However, the same should apply to every player who has committed the same crime. Not just Ray Rice. The NFL as a whole needs to do a better job. Society needs to do a better job. This rests on all of us to take a stand and start doing the right thing. I truly hope for a brighter future moving forward in how DV is handled. Most importantly, I hope Ray Rice and his family get the help that they need. This is bigger than football, social media and the fans. This is a family that needs proper help and time to heal. Domestic violence is an epidemic and we need to work harder in advocating against it.
If you or anyone you know is a victim of Domestic Violence and you are ready to get the help you truly deserve, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.