The Rice family was headline news across a wide range of media outlets and social media platforms. As my post last week noted, each viewpoint adds a layer of understanding and widens our perspective.
Let’s begin with Ray Rice’s public statements. At a Ravens news conference, he tells reporters, “You know that’s not me.” “You know that’s something I have to live … with the rest of my life.” He called his violent actions “inexcusable.” He said he was sorry to the Ravens owner, general manager and head coach. “I also want to apologize to my fans, to the kids, everyone who’s affected by the situation me and my wife are in.”
I wouldn’t be the first to highlight that everyone got a public apology except Janay. His statement “that’s not me” sounds like an attempt to distance himself from the responsibility for actually doing what he did. Maybe he means it was uncharacteristic of him to beat Janay. Or perhaps what he means is that nearly all the time, he’s a great guy. Violent outbursts are not who he is most of the time, so they don’t represent him. Or perhaps he is saying he actually feels like a different person when he is being abusive and violent.
If he believes he is not the actor when he is being violent or abusive in other ways (troublesome for both on and off the field) then he can convince himself and say with sincerity, “that‘s not me.”
When Ray states he has to live with “that” the rest of his life, he isn’t acknowledging that Janay is also living with “it” the rest of her life. Does he mean he has to live with the consequences to his career? His guilt? The damage he caused to his wife and their relationship? The knowledge that he has the potential to lose control or that he is willing to use violence to remain in control? He does sound contrite and rueful – so do many perpetrators during the honeymoon phase in between violent or abusive acts. A different kind of apology might sound like, “I did something wrong. I know why it’s wrong. I am sorry for the harm my actions caused. I won’t do it again.”
Unfortunately, it’s very hard to believe this was the first time he acted against Janay in an abusive way. IPV (Intimate Partner Violence) rarely starts with a beating or ends at just one incident.
After he is permanently suspended, Rice texts CNN’s Rachel Nichols this message: “I’m just holding strong for my wife and kid that’s all I can do right now.”
ESPN’s Josina Anderson spoke to the Rices by phone. Ray echoes that theme and then says, “I have to be strong for my wife. She is so strong. … We are in good spirits. We have a lot of people praying for us and we’ll continue to support each other.” He calls on the strong black woman stereotype and religious values. If Janay is strong like she should be, and/or a woman of faith like she should be and believes in standing by her man, then she won’t leave. That puts her in a bind. If she does leave she is weak, or a sinner, or both.
What does Janay say?
We hear publically from Janay at a press conference in May, where she says, “I do deeply regret the role that I played in the incident that night.” @Ravens tweets about this, and after negative feedback, that tweet is deleted.
After Rice is suspended, he is interviewed by ESPN, and after making a statement himself, hands his phone to his wife. Janay says, “I love my husband. I support him.” “I want people to respect our privacy in this family matter.”
Then she posts to Instagram:
Janay’s wishes should be respected. Janay is free to make any choice she wants about staying or leaving; she alone is the final authority on what is best for her. She is still tweeting and posting on Instagram in defense of herself and Ray.
Ray knocking Janay out cold wasn’t her fault. Her desire to deflect blame off her husband, by “regretting her role,” asking for privacy because the constant drumbeat of the story keeps the memory of that evening fresh in their minds (like reliving the trauma over and over), and her concern over the welfare of her family after the loss of Ray’s job – these statements may be necessary for her own survival.
Is it so hard to imagine that taking some responsibility, letting him characterize the aftermath as a “we” issue, and begging for space and time for him to cool down might be helping her stay safe, even if only for a while?
Don’t be too judgy
Rekha Basu of the Des Moines Register writes, “But as righteous as our indignation may be, and as crucial the expectation that no man should strike a woman and get away with it, we need to resist the urge to judge a victim’s reactions — because she’s a victim even if she won’t admit it.
So many contradictory forces are at play in abusive relationships, bolstered by male-dominated cultural expectations, deeply ingrained power dynamics, twisted rationalizations and misplaced notions of loyalty.
There are also very real fears about how to survive alone in the world — or simply while getting out of the house. The risk of being killed shoots way up when a battered woman tries to leave. Experts say it typically takes seven tries.”
We don’t know where Janay is in the trajectory of her relationship; we don’t know what else, if anything preceded what was recorded on tape or what is continuing to happen in the private moments of their lives. We don’t know if she wants to leave, has a safety plan, has economic means to survive on her own, feels equipped to be a single parent, what her friends and family are telling her, how much shame or self-blame she is carrying.
In other words, it would be great if we were less judgmental. Basu offers some options for how to support someone who is not ready to leave or who doesn’t acknowledge s/he is in an abusive relationship and at the top of the list is: Don’t condemn their choices.
Hashtags help survivors connect
In the incredible outpouring of contributions to these social media discussions, we hear stories that illustrate the complexity of each person’s life and the decisions they face. Sometimes, there is no good choice, only a choice between two terrible options. For example, stay and face periodic violence or leave and face a high risk of escalated violence — even death.
Trip E, at fbomb answers the question,” Why didn’t you leave sooner?” with a response that illustrates this kind of no win situation.
“For me — and I think for many other domestic violence survivors and victims — there were two big reasons for not leaving “sooner.” Perhaps the most understandable to such critics is that I feared what would happen when I left. At least while in the relationship, I thought my partner loved me and I could cling to the briefer and briefer honeymoon stages in between abuse. If I left, there would be no honeymoons, and nothing stopping him from escalating the violence to the point of no return.”
“The second reason — and I think the one that will be harder for critics to grasp — is that I loved my partner. … I thought that it was a flaw in my ability to love, in my own ability to be a caring partner that was hurting us both. I had watched my parents stuck in the same cycle, and I thought that that was what love was, that a lover’s perpetual disappointment in you was crucial to the sweetness that came after when they had, for a moment, forgiven you. Every time he apologized, and said it would never happen again, I really believed him, because I believed I could become good enough for him.“
Further, not everyone’s goal is to leave. Racine Henry, interviewed at For Harriet, notes that all the reasons that people stay in abusive relationships are also the reasons people stay in just ok relationships, and are the ties that bind in healthy relationships as well. Fear. And love, history, money, friends and family and coworkers, kids, a shared home, you’ve been there for each other in the past, you hold strong religious beliefs. For example, a partner might prefer to stay and get the abuser help so the relationship (and family) remains together.
Instead of focusing on why she stayed, perhaps ask, “Why did he do this? Why is he in an intimate relationship if he can’t manage his anger when he is triggered? Why isn’t he seeking mental health treatment? Why doesn’t he leave, so he doesn’t hurt his partner anymore?
Next week – The Power of Elle. Donna makes a guest appearance with a post about how one girl can change the bullying culture at a school in honor of National Bullying Prevention Month.
Please join us each week and invite others to do so as well.