Domestic Abuse Is Not Funny

Lately, my newsfeeds have been plastered with articles and commentary about Ray Rice. I have my own opinions on the manner, so I would like to dissect what’s been going on here.

A Bit of Background Information

On February 15, Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice was at the Revel Hotel and Casino with his then-fianceé Janay Palmer. According to video footage from the hotel cameras, the two began arguing in the hallway and continued to do so once they’d stepped into an elevator.

However, the fight quickly escalated from an exchange of words to a physical altercation. Rice swung first, and when Palmer lunged toward him in an attempt to counter, he hit her again, so forcefully that she slammed into the elevator wall and dropped, unconscious, to the floor.

Later, when the elevator doors opened, Rice gathered her limp body in his arms and began dragging her out. He encountered some hotel staff members, who reportedly asked if she was drunk, but Rice did not give them an answer.

(Please, out of respect to Palmer, do not watch the actual video. Relying on the textual account should be enough to get the gist of the story.)

The NFL’s Response

This incident was not even addressed by the NFL until months later in May, when a partial video of Rice pulling an unconscious Palmer out of an elevator surfaced. Even then, when they publicly recognized that he was guilty of domestic violence, their only punishment was a paltry two-game suspension, handed to him on July 24.

The footage from the video tape that shows the assault was released by TMZ on September 8. Very shortly afterward, it was announced that the Ravens terminated Rice’s contract.

One of the major issues that has been discussed in relation to this incident is whether influential parties in the NFL, such as Commissioner Roger Goodell and Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh, actually saw this video footage before it was released to the public.

There are a couple of things wrong with this. First, many sources have claimed that the NFL did not have access to this footage until now, but the Revel Hotel disagrees. Though the hotel closed its doors on September 2, they claimed that if the NFL had asked for the tape at any time, it would have been handed over gladly.

But regardless of whether they were able to view the actual footage, the NFL was fully aware of what took place, and they were still prepared to give him a slap on the wrist and move on. However, the video going viral after being posted on TMZ forced them to have some form of accountability, and I am convinced that that’s the only reason they banned him indefinitely.

Let The Victim-Blaming Begin

Of course, as people often do following incidents like this, many voices rose up to blame Janay Palmer. She has been framed as the instigator, and a popular opinion – most notably expressed by ESPN commentator Stephen A. Smith – is that she should be held responsible for provoking him to anger.

On May 23, the Ravens’ Twitter account posted that Palmer – not Rice – “deeply regrets” the role that she played in the incident. (The tweet in question has since been deleted.)

Fox News hosts made several tasteless comments about Palmer, saying she is “sending a terrible message” by remaining married to Rice. They also quipped, “I think the message is, take the stairs,” in response to the cameras located in the elevator capturing the footage.

Not only that, but official NFL spokesmen were also quick to absolve Rice of any guilt. Ravens’ General Manager Ozzie Newsome was quoted as saying, “We respect the efforts Ray has made to become the best partner and father he can be. That night was not typical of the Ray Rice we know and respect. We believe that he will not let that one night define who he is, and he is determined to make sure something like this never happens again.”

#WhyIStayed

Even now, people still say Palmer is at fault. It hurt my heart when one of my good friends overheard me discussing the situation and said, “Wait, this happened back in February? Why did she marry the guy?” As if their matrimony was an atonement for his sins, proof that he’d either changed his ways or she was willingly digging her own grave.

And really, it sounds so simple. “Just leave the guy!” But I can confidently say, both from research and my own personal experience, that often in abusive relationships, the victim feels like they have no choice in the matter.

In recognition of this reality, the grassroots hashtag campaign #WhyIStayed has roared to life on Twitter in the past couple of days. It was initiated by author Beverly Gooden, and since then thousands of women – and men – have added to the conversation by sharing their stories.

The Harm This Has Done to Palmer

The damage that this woman has suffered goes far deeper than the assault that February night. While many activists cheer that the footage was released, hoping it will be eye-opening about the severity of domestic abuse, it is not at all a reason to celebrate.

The video was posted without Palmer’s consent, forcing her to relive this traumatic moment that I’m sure she’d rather block out. By now, millions of people have gotten a voyeuristic view of her private pain and think nothing of it. They’ve clicked the “play” button when the video appeared on their newsfeeds, they gave their obligatory gasps at the horror of it all, but then they were able to move on with their days. Palmer was not granted that luxury.

Not to mention, Rice had already lost over $500,000 in pay for the two games he didn’t play, and he reportedly stood to make $4 million this year.

Recently, Palmer broke her silence regarding the incident and made a post to her Instagram account, calling the entire situation – the publicizing of the footage, the media coverage, Rice’s suspension – “a horrible nightmare.”

Is this because she is grieving with her husband, or because she is scared about what the repercussions might be? Who’s to say his act of physical violence against his partner was an isolated incident? What if he holds her responsible for the demolition of his career and the loss of the bulk of their income? Right now, there still seem to be a lot of unknowns.

Moving Forward

Rice released a statement calling his actions “inexcusable,” and the couple has reportedly been in counseling. In addition, Goodell has enacted a new NFL personal conduct policy. A player’s first domestic violence incident earns them a six-game unpaid suspension, and a second offense means a lifetime ban from the league.

These all seem to be steps in the right direction. Even though I am saddened that it took this incident to spur the NFL to action in terms of ramping up the consequences of domestic abuse, there was an action nonetheless.

While Rice seems to be remorseful on the surface, I still remain concerned about Palmer’s safety and personal well-being. I am ever-hopeful that either the health and stability of her marriage improve, or that she is able to find the strength to leave.