Ray Rice's actions concern me less than our response, especially women. It is more than irksome that it took the release of the video to elicit shock and disdain. The NFL's initial two-day suspension based on information that Janay Palmer-Rice provoked the attack is illustrative of our acceptance of domestic violence. Women's response to Janay Rice was just as visceral as the Rihanna-Chris Brown and Mike Tyson-Robin Givens abuse. In each case, the women were blamed for provoking their men to attack them. Under no circumstance is it appropriate for a man to strike a woman. Jay-Z properly demonstrated what to do when being attacked by a woman in the elevator incident with his sister-in-law, Solange. Despite Solange's kicks and hits, at no point did Jay-Z raise his hand to her. Sponsors fled Tiger Woods for marital infidelity. Yet, beating a woman is only worth a two-day suspension?!
Athletes and celebrities like Ray Rice, Chris Brown and Floyd Mayweather are given passes for criminal behavior. In the 1980s, people justified the allegations that Mike Tyson beat Robin Givens saying it was because she was a "gold-digger." Similarly, after the Rihanna-Chris Brown incident fans, particularly female fans, blamed Rihanna for "ruining" Chris Brown's career. Rihanna was beaten beyond recognition and, if not for the release of the photo, the public would have been in the dark as to the extent of the abuse she endured. Rihanna was "villainized" and Chris Brown treated as the victim. Yet we wonder why victims of domestic abuse return to their abusers after we bully them for exposing the truth? We have taken "stand by your man" to a new low that is untenable and puts the lives of women and girls in danger.
Young girls are physically and sexually abused by high school and college athletes. The media talks about the damage to the young athletes' potential careers. As a society, we have made it clear to victims of abuse and rape that you are to blame for someone else's criminal behavior. Let us be clear. Domestic violence is assault. Assault is a crime. The fact that the assault is from a person you know and love makes it more heinous. Unfortunately, unlike the stranger we were warned of as children, 82 percent of rape is by an acquaintance, friend or relative. For victims of domestic violence, your attacker is usually the person that you have loved and trusted. A 16-year-old is drunk and recorded as she is raped. She is blamed for her attack for appearing to enjoy it. Sex requires consent. A drunken person is not competent to give consent. Still, we consistently blame the victims for the behavior of their attackers. It is no wonder that rape and domestic violence victims keep silent because instead of understanding they are publicly shamed. Just as we have glamorized mean girls and bullies, so too have we rewarded abusers. Floyd "Money" Mayweather has a history of womanizing, yet people adore Floyd. It is not surprising that Floyd feels that the NFL was wrong in its treatment of Ray Rice.
The cycle of poverty and abuse are quite similar. The cycle of poverty states that once started, without outside intervention, it will continue indefinitely. Poverty is a death sentence. Likewise, the cycle of abuse casts a wide net. Its victims are not merely the recipient of the bruised face or broken bones, but collateral damage is done to the children who witness the violence. Rihanna grew up watching her father abuse her mother. Chris Brown watched his stepfather abuse his mother. I would like to think that both said that they would never do that or be in that situation as adults. Unfortunately, unless we unlearn bad behavior or release demons and family secrets that have haunted our childhood, we are doomed to repeat them but for outside intervention. Usually that outside intervention is in the form of therapy and counseling. I have heard too many adults say that they are afraid of becoming parents because they do not want to turn into their parents, yet they never received counseling or therapy for the abuse they witnessed or experienced as children. That is a precarious situation that has implications in all of our relationships.
As a society, we have long used women as the scapegoat for men's "inability to control themselves" causing them to physically or sexually assault women. When a man is accused of hitting or assaulting a woman, the first question is typically, "What did she do or wear?" That should be the last thing that comes from our mouths. Until we condemn athletes, musicians and celebrities who hit and take advantage of drunken girls in high school and college, we will continue to have a culture of victim shaming and bullying of women.
For all the women that attacked Janay Rice for staying with her husband, first do us a favor and educate yourself about the nature of abuse. Second, ask yourself how many sisters, girlfriends, cousins and acquaintances have you encouraged to stay in abusive relationships (verbal, physical or otherwise) because the guy is good to them or buys them nice things? How many aunts do you know were in abusive relationships that stayed because they had no financial alternative or no one offered them safe haven? Janay and Ray are in need of counseling and therapy individually and especially as a couple if remaining together is their goal. For the sake of their daughter, it is necessary to break the cycle of abuse. As a society, we need to make it clear that under no circumstance is it OK for a woman to be used as a punching bag for a man's aggression. As women, we need to understand the power of our words to uplift, encourage or destroy. Educate your sons and daughters to value and respect themselves and others.
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-656-HOPE for the National Sexual Assault Hotline.
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) for the National Domestic Violence Hotline.