As stories swirl around the Ray Rice event, a lingering question has emerged in many public comments: Why did Janay stay? Why did she marry Ray Rice after he knocked her unconscious during an argument?
The question we should be asking is why the National Football League chose to stay connected to Ray Rice after the abuse he perpetrated. Asking why Janay stayed is a continuation of blaming the abuse on her, just as the NFL and Ray Rice have done.
Why did Janay Palmer stay? A brief explanation of the dynamics of domestic violence helps here.
Victims of domestic violence are often coerced in their relationships, not only during heated abusive episodes, but also during the contrition period following abuse. In Rice's public apology, he called Janay "an angel who can do no wrong." This elevation of Janay is a common pattern used by abusers during the contrition period, along with promises of love and a better life, sharing of elaborate gifts, and professions of personal change.
Victims are also led by the abuser, and often others in their life, to believe they instigated the abuse and that they must play a role in rehabilitation (there has been much discussion about Janay hitting Rice first). This process is called minimizing, denying and blaming the abuse on the victim.
In our study of domestic violence offenders, when one offender knocked his fiancée down the stairs, she later screamed during a telephone call, "Wait until you see the pictures of what you did to my face. They think my cheek is broken." The offender's response was "Aw, man, I'm sorry." As the victim pressed the offender for a more empathic response: "They think my cheek is broken," the offender responded with "Well, so is the door" (that the victim fell into).
Remember the Rihanna and Chris Brown domestic abuse event, where Rihanna was accused of "instigating" the event by throwing car keys out of the window before Brown choked and beat her until she lost consciousness?
A critical reminder: Domestic violence events of the severity of Rice's and Brown's are never mutually instigated.
Disputes between domestic violence offenders and their victims often involve heated verbal arguments, with words being exchanged between both victim and offender. Sometimes shoving occurs back and forth. These verbal exchanges and light shoving are not unlike arguments that occur in couples that consider themselves "non-violent."
However, the severity of violence perpetrated by offenders in our research is never "instigated." Hard, physical blows leaving the victim unconscious. Strangling and suffocating the victim. Biting. Breaking ribs, fingers and wrists. Pushing the victim off of a balcony.
Another reason victims stay: The most dangerous period for victims is when they decide to leave an abuser. It is during this period that victims are at heightened risk of experiencing more intense abuse and are at risk of death.
The newly-released video of Ray Rice's actions should be used to highlight the realities of domestic violence, including the realities of mutual conflict in relationships. But in no way should this generate discussion on "shared responsibility" for severe violence or to question why Janay "stayed."
The video should also be used to call into question the NFL's choice to stay connected to Ray Rice in the face of the severity of the violence he perpetrated. The NFL suspended Rice indefinitely on Sept. 8 only after the video emerged showing him knocking out his then-fiancée -- and months after Rice agreed to a pretrial intervention program to avoid prosecution on assault charges.
The NFL's choice to continue its affiliation with Rice for so long is a validation of his abusive actions, an attempt to sweep the abuse under the carpet. The NFL, collectively, has acted in the same fashion that abusers do.
As well, if the public continues to ask the question "why did she stay," rather than concentrating on Rice's abusive actions and ensuring effective punishment, it is perpetrating and re-perpetrating the abuse cycle against Janay.