The video is everywhere now. Even those of us who are severely, mentally and emotionally triggered by witnessing such violence against women were unable to escape it. Viewing that video of Ray Rice and Janay Rice demands conversation.
We can’t seem to unsee it or not talk about it. Some have disgustingly used the incident to focus on how women should expect to be beaten when they’re aggressive towards men. Others used it to examine the NFL’s blind eye toward domestic violence, and how they don’t acknowledge that the violence perpetuated on the field often finds a landing place off of it.
Some, like Public Enemy’s Chuck D, thought it apropos to ask whether such violence against women would occur if those women were “really raised” by their fathers (instead of, maybe, posing a question about whether such violence against women would occur if those same missing fathers would “really raise” their sons not to beat the sh*it out of women).
The most ridiculous and meaningless of these conversations distract us from what we really need to discuss, which is why women like Janay Rice stay in violent relationships, and what we can do to support them, to possibly help them out of a situation that too often leads to their deaths.
The frustrating answer to that first question is, Who knows? We have no idea why individual women choose to stay with men who abuse them. As the Domestic Abuse Project notes, women stay in these relationships for reasons ranging from fear that their partners may kill them if they leave, to them witnessing abuse as children. Victims are often isolated from those who might help them, which may make it unimaginably hard to walk away. There may be children involved that the victim is concerned about while contemplating transitional living.
Abuse affects victims both physically and emotionally, so she may not believe that leaving is a better option. Victims of domestic violence are often financially and otherwise dependent on their abusers. And devastatingly often, victims believe that they love their partners, that their partners love them, and have hopes that the abuse will stop.
Author Leslie Morgan Steiner, in her TED Talk entitled “Why Domestic Violence Victims Don’t Leave,” calls these relationships a “psychological trap disguised as love.” There are more reasons, maybe, than there are words to describe them. And although we don’t know enough about Janay Rice’s life to determine her reasons for staying, we must discuss how we can help women like her make different choices, and maybe help to save their lives.
First of all, it’s imperative that you say something, even if it makes you uncomfortable or if the victim continues to deny the abuse taking place. Gently remind her of what concerns you and that there are ways out. The key word here is gentle. Victims of domestic violence are battered mentally and physically. Preaching and being aggressive towards them will only further isolate them and make them feel even more hopeless. Be compassionately vocal about how the abuse is affecting the victim and, when present, any children.
It’s important to show care and support for women who are experiencing domestic violence. The Domestic Violence Resource Centre Victoria suggests we offer practical assistance to victims, “like minding the children for a while, cooking a meal for her, offering a safe place to stay, transport or to accompany her to court, etc.”
Also, the DVRCV site adds that friends and family members should help the victim increase her safety. Identify a “safe place” where a victim can go when in danger. Find out what local police and court systems offer to assist victims of domestic violence. Prepare a “safe bag” with her, maybe help her open an emergency account so she will have access to funds if she has to leave quickly. Contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline or other similar outreach groups to help devise additional plans.
Beyond the punditry and patriarchal responses, we must focus on the real issue: saving women from domestic violence.