Staying With An Abuser: It's More Complicated Than 'Stand By Your Man'
After a mere 24 hours of speculation – what is Janay Rice thinking? – the nation got its answer via Instagram. Rice defended her husband, former Baltimore Raven Ray Rice, and blamed the national media for terminating an NFL career that he “had worked his ass off for all his life.”
While I am saddened by that statement, I am more disturbed by the outcry and backlash blaming Janay not only for staying with her husband, but for jumping to his defense. This is why domestic violence cases are so tough. Victims want to believe things will get better, that the relationship will be restored to what it once was before the abuse happened. What domestic violence advocates know is that leaving an abusive relationship very often can be a long process.
Rather than questioning why victims don’t leave, consider asking why abusers, so often, walk away from what they have done with no penalty or repercussion?
Everyone has a role in ending domestic violence. While the victim works to understand what is happening in her life and make decisions about what her next steps are, others have a role.
After the video of Ray Rice punching Janay came out this week, the state had a duty to charge him with a crime. They didn’t.
The NFL had a role to stand up and speak out against domestic violence and support the victim, not the player. They didn’t.
As a survivor of domestic violence and as chief executive of a non-profit domestic violence crisis and prevention center, I know from experience that domestic violence advocates can not do this work alone. Following the murder in 2004 of a woman who was receiving services at the center where I work, we shifted our approach to better meet the needs of victims. How did we do this?
We developed the Domestic Violence High Risk Team (DVHRT) model, based on research conducted by Dr. Jacquelyn C. Campbell at Johns Hopkins University. The DVHRT model identifies predictable patterns that escalate in violence and severity. The DVHRT brings together a multidisciplinary team comprised of law enforcement, courts, probation, batterer’s intervention and correction. Together we identify high risk cases to hold the abuser accountable for their behavior so that victims can be safe in their own community. This approach encourages victims to get the supportive services they need to stabilize their lives. Since the model was introduced in 2004, we have experienced no domestic violence homicides in our jurisdiction.
But the truly revolutionary thing that happened as a result of this work was that each partner of this team fully understood their role and did it: domestic violence advocates provided counseling services, law enforcement investigated cases and wrote strong reports that gave prosecution the evidence they needed to present strong cases. Together, we work to hold the abuser accountable while we support the victim and increase her safety and stability.
Imagine the lessons sent to victims by the Ray Rice case. Not only did the “system” not hold him accountable for his criminal behavior, he was barely given a slap on the wrist. While the public is confused about why Janay has rushed to his defense and minimized the abuse that we all witnessed on that video, the outrage should be directed at the systems that failed her and all victims. When the systems that are in place to respond to these crimes look the other way and minimize the abuse, it continues to perpetuate the belief that this behavior is acceptable, that it isn’t a crime.
We know every domestic violence victim struggles with daily decisions about the situation they are in: If we get married, will he believe I love him and stop treating me like this? Will things change if I get a job? Stop working? Change the way I look? Stop seeing my friends? Victims are caught in a cycle of trying to anticipate the abuser’s behavior in order to head off the next abusive episode. Victims wonder if they are depriving their children of another parent, if they will survive financially, or if anyone will believe them.
From a distance, with no more information than most of us have, it is easy to criticize a victim for her choices. That only serves to hold the victim, not the abuser, responsible for the abuse.
Domestic violence is an epidemic that continues because we, as a culture, have learned to look the other way. The National Football League had the opportunity and the duty to be a leading partner that shines a light on domestic violence and seeks ways to end abuse. NFL players represent more than just gifted athletes; they are multi-million dollar investments for team owners. They are also role models who can take a stand against such abuse.
From a distance, with no more information than most of us have, it is easy to criticize a victim for her choices. That only serves to hold the victim, not the abuser, responsible for the abuse. Rather than questioning why victims don’t leave, consider asking why abusers, so often, walk away from what they have done with no penalty or repercussion? How about asking “why do abusers continue to abuse? After contemplating that injustice, ask yourself, “How can I help?”