By now, you all know. You’ve heard it, you’ve read about it, you’ve watched it a million times on t.v. The Ray and Janay Rice situation. If you haven’t, here’s it in short: Ray Rice being suspended for two games in the NFL after the initial video of him dragging his then-fiancee Janay unconscious out of an elevator. Everyone freaking out about the tiny suspension. Her apologizing for her part in the altercation. Marrying him.
Then Monday, TMZ releasing the video of him punching her unconscious before dragging her out of the elevator. The NFL firing him. Her apologizing again for her part and telling everyone that they will keep showing what real love means.
People are appalled at seeing the video. People are appalled at her apologizing for getting knocked out by her then-fiancee. People screaming, “Why hasn’t he been banned for life from the NFL?!?!?!” People screaming, “Why hasn’t she left him?!! She needs help!” People screaming, “If she stays, that’s on her! What an idiot!!!”
What you may not know so well is that the public’s responses are COMPLETELY missing the point. Yes, it’s horrifying to watch someone getting punched out, particularly a couple perpetrating violence against each other (yes, she hit him too, but not with the same consequences). Yes, it’s shocking to think that even after something this horrible is brought to light, she’s still willing to stay by his side and risk further abuse. Yes, the NFL really fucked up with a 2 game suspension in the first place.
But the answers to these questions aren’t getting to any solution. The problems aren’t really that the NFL is stupid or that she’s stupid for staying with an abuser. THE PROBLEM IS THE CYCLE OF DOMESTIC ABUSE. THE PROBLEM IS HOW WE DEFINE MASCULINITY AND FEMININITY. THE PROBLEM IS HOW WE CREATE A CULTURE OF SILENCE AND SHAME. THE PROBLEM IS HOW WE RE-VICTIMIZE PEOPLE AND DON’T EVEN KNOW WE’RE DOING IT.
If you didn’t ask yourselves about any of those problems, you are probably one of those people screaming your head off for all the misguided reasons above.
Let’s start from the beginning, shall we? Forget all those Lifetime movies we’ve seen, the Law and Order: SVU episodes we’ve marathoned through. Watching these shows has made people think that they’re experts on crime and violence. YOU’RE NOT.
These shows are based on reality, yes, but they stray from the realities of life in major ways. It’s so easy to see a show wrap itself up after 30 min or an hour, and boom, the police and lawyers have completely figured out the issue and figured out what’s wrong. But in real life, we deal with far more than just someone did something illegal, they will be prosecuted, and the victim will be safe.
- Have you ever had a partner yell at you for going out without them?
- Have they ever stolen your phone to look at text messages or pictures without your consent and become angry or jealous?
- Have you ever had someone show up where you are and make you feel threatened?
- Have you ever had someone repeatedly ask you out, even though you’ve said no each time?
- Have you ever had someone grab your ass or body parts in public and you couldn’t figure out who did it?
- Has a partner decided what you wear or eat?
- Has a partner called, and called, and called, and messaged, and filled up your voicemail box?
- Have a partner freak out on you after drinking or doing drugs?
- Have you ever had someone tell you you’re ugly, that no one is your friend, that no one will ever get you the way they get you?
- Have you ever had someone repeatedly question where you were, who you were with, and then accuse you of lying?
- Have you ever had someone make up a fake profile online to stalk you or bully you?
- Has someone ever hit you, pushed you, cornered you, or made you feel like you were in danger?
If you answered yes to any of those questions, just ONE, you were a victim of relationship or dating violence and/or sexual assault, EVEN IF YOU DON’T FEEL LIKE A VICTIM.
Violence within the context of a relationship has nothing to do with sex or lust. It is a crime of power and control. It stems from the insecurities of an abusive partner trying to assert power and control over the other person because by doing so, the abuser finally feels a sense of power and control in life.
How they assert that control can come in different forms: emotional, physical, mental, sexual, etc. It’s not how they show it on t.v.; it’s usually covert, hidden, and for the victim, deeply shaming. The victim usually does whatever she (it’s usually a she, although men can be victims too) can to hide it from others.
The hiding and denying is a part of the cycle of domestic and relationship violence. It’s not that she’s an idiot, or that she has no will power, or that she’s acting like a victim. She is being controlled and is being victimized by her partner. There is a difference, however blurry it may seem.
The abuser typically starts out with massive amounts of charm and romantic efforts. The victim becomes connected to this person in an intimate and emotional way. Then the abuse begins to manifest itself, slowly, and perhaps in tiny ways that go unnoticed or explained away. “They had a tough day” “They are stressed out” “It was a one-time thing” “They love me and they’re sorry and promise to not do it again.”
The pull of those statements, the control those sentences exert on the victim are overwhelming. Giving the victim hope is one of the most cruel things that happens. Hope that the abuse will stop. Hope that they will be ok from now on. Hope that the original sweet-natured person will come back again.
You see, it’s the hope for all these things that keeps a victim there.
It can also be because the victim no longer has financial control and literally cannot afford to leave. It can be because the last time she tried to leave, he threatened her children, family, and/or friends; sometimes, he even makes good on those threats (in case you don’t read the news, this has happened at LEAST 5 times in the last 3 months).
Now that this has happened a few times, the abuse begins to intensify, with stronger consequences. Bruising, fear, anxiety, PTSD, sexual assaults and/or rape, forced pregnancy, punching, pushing, etc. The shame that accompanied the tiny abuse has grown exponentially and so has the need to “cover it up”.
But the reasons why domestic violence occurs in the first place is our fault as a culture. When we teach boys to not cry and withhold emotion and value sexual conquest and bodily strength and athletic ability above all else, when we teach girls to put others’ needs before our own and suppress their desires and emotions and to fear being called a slut or whore when we desire sex or being told it was our fault when we are raped, when we teach people to stay out of others’ private lives because “it’s none of my business”, when we teach people it’s ok to judge others and call each other sluts and whores or weak for not getting out of an abusive situation, we create a culture where domestic violence is going to happen.
We as a culture have made it harder for abusive partners to not be abusive in the first place and for victims to leave abusive partners at all. We have made re-victimizing people, either by telling them it’s their fault if they get abused because they’re staying or by watching the TMZ video a million times or by sharing it with others, a way of life.
We as a culture should be ashamed.
If you said any of the following:
- "She’s an idiot for staying."
- "She deserves what she gets."
- "Only morons apology for getting beat up."
- "He said he was sorry. We need to mind our own businesses."
- "Boys will be boys."
- "She probably provoked him, it’s her fault she got punched."
- "She just cost him millions of dollars/he’ll never work again because of her."
… you’re contributing to the cycle, not stopping it.
If you feel like you’re getting overwhelmed by all of this, or if it’s happening to someone you know, SAY SOMETHING. Silence feeds the violence.
There are ways to get help. Ways to get help include:
- Calling the police. If you are in immediate danger, call 911.
- Calling hotlines. Learn more about different help hotlines. Hotlines provide support and resources. They also can help you create a safety plan for leaving an abuser.
- Reaching out to people you trust. People who care want to help. You can start with family, friends, or community organizations.
- Talking to a health care professional. Doctors, nurses, and counselors can offer physical aid, emotional support, and resources. Go to a hospital emergency room if you need immediate help for injuries.
- Contacting a shelter or rape crisis center. Shelters provide food, housing, and other types of help. You can find shelters and services by contacting a hotline or through state resources.
- Contacting an advocate. Advocates are people who are trained to help someone who has lived through domestic violence, dating violence, or sexual assault. You can talk to an advocate on the phone or in person, confidentially and for free. Advocates can explain options and programs in your community that may include legal support, counseling, emergency services, and other resources. Advocates work in shelters and in community-based programs. You can learn more by calling help hotlines.
This world is smaller than you think. If we took the time to care about each other, holy shit, this place would be a wonderful place to live.