Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Ray Rice, Janay Rice, and Domestic Violence

By now, you know the story. Former (he was cut by the team Monday) Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice knocked his then-fiance, now-wife, Janay, unconscious in a hotel elevator earlier this year. NFL commissioner, Roger Goodell, originally suspended Rice for two games. The Baltimore Ravens took no further action. People were outraged. (Except Ravens fans who gave Rice a standing ovation when he returned to training camp.) Roger Goodell stubbornly stood his ground. The news cycle moved on to something new. And life went on.

Then, Monday, TMZ released the actual video of Ray Rice punching Janay. It was disturbing. I have no idea how a man could do that to a woman. Much less a woman he supposedly loves. The public became outraged once again. The Baltimore Ravens and the NFL finally took action (which was ultimately nothing more than a PR move) by cutting Rice and suspending him indefinitely from the league.

It was the right move, but the timing was way off. As someone tweeted (quotes get stolen so often on Twitter that I have no idea who the original thought came from), "Given a choice, the Ravens defended Ray Rice. Given no other choice, they released Ray Rice." Another poignant tweet: "Remember, Ray Rice was not cut because the Baltimore Ravens saw that video. He was cut because you saw that video."

Ray Rice should never play professional football again. The Baltimore Ravens should face disciplinary action. And Roger Goodell should resign immediately. Punching your fiance in the face isn't a mistake. It's a disgusting character flaw that cannot be condoned in a civilized society. And anyone involved with trying to sweep the incident under the rug (I'm still looking at you, Roger Goodell) should be relieved of his or her duties.

But that's not what this post is about. This post is about Janay Rice.

Janay stood by Ray throughout the entire process. And, even today, released a statement supporting her husband and blaming the media for ruining their lives. And, for some reason, people began attacking Janay. Calling her stupid. Or a gold-digger. Or other awful names I won't repeat here. I even saw lots of people claiming she "asked for it," or "started it," or "hit him first."

That made me sad and disgusted.

Janay Rice is still a victim. Domestic violence is incredibly complicated. If it was easy to leave, everyone would. Blaming the victim accomplishes nothing and diffuses responsibility, ultimately letting the real perpetrator off the hook. Haven't we played that game long enough?

A student group in one of my service learning classes partnered with Women Helping Women a few years ago, and I've been impressed with their organization ever since. It's a local organization based in Cincinnati, Ohio, but I'm sure there are groups just like it in every city around the country (and hopefully many around the world). If you find yourself in need of help, visit their website (from a safe computer that your abuser can't access) or call 513-381-5610 (Cincinnati) or 1-800-799-SAFE (national hotline). Contact the organization and speak to someone trained to assist you. Your friends and family mean well, but they may not offer the best advice. Let an expert provide the game plan, then enlist your friends and family to help execute that plan.

Incidents like this are awful, but they ultimately shine a light into the darkness. Here's hoping and praying millions of women (and men) find the help they need because of the horrible actions of one cowardly football player.

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