By Rena Galanis
Watching the video of Ray Rice punching the lights out of his then fiance, Janay Palmer, has been nothing short of horrifying. Reading comments and open letters giving advice to Janay has been almost as disturbing.
National outrage at the video footage of former Baltimore Ravens running back, Ray Rice, 27, punching his then fiance out cold and then callously dragging her limp body out of the Revel Casino elevator in Atlantic City (now closed) in which the altercation took place, has led to his indefinite suspension from the NFL.
It has remained an issue many women must deal with ( statistics show that DV incidents have not diminished over the last 20 years and often they go unreported) and that is largely not covered in the media because unless a death is involved, it is just not news.
While some comments offer words of support to Janay, many are openly critical of her behaviour after the incident, in particular her decision to follow through with wedding plans last March to the man who abused her and participating in a news conference in which she said she regrets her actions on the night of the incident.
Janay is being pounded again and again with each replaying of the elevator video. And comments which call her a “gold digger” for staying are another means of adding to the shame and mortification domestic violence survivors grapple with already.
The fact is, domestic violence happens at every income level to women of all kinds of backgrounds. The 2012 paparazzi photos of Charles Saatchi choking his then wife, celebrity chef Nigella Lawson, in England, also put a spotlight on the issue. Lawson is an Oxford University-educated, respected author and television personality with her own personal wealth ranking in the millions, and yet only left her marriage to advertising and art-world mogul Saatchi, once the photos became public and after suffering through “intimate terrorism” for who knows how long.
The now infamous case involving singers Rihanna and Chris Brown in 2009, is also an example in which the woman was completely financially independent of the boyfriend who brutally abused her. Three years after the police photographs of her pummelled face at the hands of Brown went viral, Rihanna did an interview with Oprah (in 2012) in which she admitted her still strong feelings for Brown (“I lost my best friend”) and how she felt protective of him in the aftermath of the public outcry against his actions. Shortly after, she reconciled with Brown before finally breaking ties, purportedly for good.
Women stay for a myriad of reasons. It’s complex. Reasons for staying range from cultural expectations, family of origin dynamics, responsibilities and expectations, self-esteem issues, need for partner’s approval, dependency (both emotional and financial), shame, fear for safety of self and other family members including children, the legal system (which does not always work in favour of the abused), in addition to the emotional bond between the couple.
While I am not privy to the details of the Rices’ relationship, I have read that Janay was only 16 when they began dating. They also have a child together. The bonds are, no doubt, deep. Trauma bonding itself is an enormous entanglement, requiring a huge amount of courage and support to unravel.
There is no shortage of “experts” and non-experts willing to weigh in on this case. That may be fair play given that the actions were carried out in public and caught by our ever-advancing technological world.
Certainly I don’t feel the same level of compassion for Ray being publicly decried as a coward, as he is a man who weighed about a hundred pounds more than Janay, had a great deal more muscle mass and was still willing to physically assault her, then callously drag out her limp body in a public space.
However, I do believe Janay deserves the dignity of privacy to deal with this, get any counseling, knowledge about the cycle of abuse, help and support she wants to get, in order to come to peace with how she wants to go forward and to determine what is in her best interests.
Criticizing her decisions and giving opinions on what she ought to do, whether from an “expert” who is not working with her or anyone else who doesn’t personally know her, is just infantilizing (which by the way, is a big part of a controlling relationship as well) – treating her as though she is incapable of making a sound decision.
Breaking the cycle of violence within an intimate partnership is a daunting task and research shows that anger management classes and legal intervention alone, are still not enough to change intimate abusive behaviour which is centred around power and control. Also, it often takes abused partners a number of attempts to leave their abuser before being finally able to do so.
Domestic Violence Awareness months are in October and November in the U.S. and Canada respectively. Perhaps more work needs to be done to make clear some more facts around this all-too common issue and how to support – not further shame and stigmatize – the one in four women who are faced with contending with it in their lifetimes.
For people who know someone who is experiencing intimate partner abuse, hearing from friends and family that they have value, that they don’t, under any circumstances, deserve to be physically assaulted, and that support systems are available, can be crucial.
Let’s keep talking about intimate partner abuse, why it is so prevalent and how women and men can take greater steps to finally understand the dynamics so that they can appropriately assist those who have been assaulted.
As for Janay – time to stop talking about what she should or shouldn’t do. She needs support from the people who care about her and privacy, not more public pain and humiliation.