In the past few weeks Janay Rice has been infamously known for suffering abuse at the hands of her fiancée, NFL quarterback, Ray Rice. Janay Rice’s intimate life and privacy were targeted and violated as she experienced weeks of vulnerability, pain, and distress. Stories such as these are stories about failure—failures in decency, jurisprudence, compassion, empathy, ethics, and judgment.
Rice was initially suspended for two games. Now that the second video has been leaked, Ray Rice has been released from the Baltimore Ravens and has been suspended from the NFL indefinitely. However, law enforcement has failed to intervene and provide Rice with the punishment that he deserved for knocking out Janay and dragging her body like a rag doll.
It will not be long until there will be another professional athlete, or actor, or singer who commits an act of domestic violence, and the same conversations will arise. The victim will be interrogated for her choices. The perpetrator’s behavior will be rationalized. People will stare at the images of a woman’s bruised or limp body that the media releases. And then we will proceed on to the next story. It is a distasteful cycle and it is time to break away.
Domestic violence is such a problem that there are “fact sheets” effortlessly summarizing the extent of the problem. These statistics have been amassed to illustrate the reality of domestic violence. These statistics have been compiled as if quantifying the problem might make a difference. So far, it has not. We know the statistics, but they bear repeating. Domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women. The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence survey estimates that there are 42,420,000 victims of such violence in the United States. One in four women and 1 in 7 men suffered severe physical violence by an intimate partner. 9.4 percent of high school students experience violence from an intimate partner in 2010.
There are always more statistics. There are always more ways we can quantify suffering, but we seemingly have no idea what to do with this information. To this day, most domestic violence goes unreported. Statistics are not enough. Statistics don’t make victims of domestic violence feel safe enough to share their stories or get the help they need. We have given them no reason to feel safe. Domestic violence shelters across the country struggle to serve the victims in need because there are so many, and these shelters are working with so little. Law enforcement seems ill equipped when providing the necessary safety and support a woman needs to level charges against her abuser. Prosecuting these crimes and negotiating the justice system introduces further complications, if the crimes are prosecuted at all.
And, of course, we have rather grand and indulgent ideas about what women in abusive relationships should do. We have opinions about what we would do in her situation, as if our opinions or beliefs have any resemblance to the actual experience. She should leave him, we say. She should press charges. She should get a restraining order. She should go to a shelter. And when a woman doesn’t make the choices we approve of, she, rather than her abuser, is left with the responsibility and cause for her suffering. So very little empathy or kindness for women in abusive relationships is provided. People do not want to hear real stories about what it’s like endure such relationships. People do not want to hear how love and fear and pride and shame shape the decisions made in abusive relationships. People do not want to hear the truth because it is too complicated. Abused women are left with nowhere to go. They are forced into silence and invisibility.
In a perfect world, yes, a woman should leave an abusive relationship. She should have the emotional, physical, and financial means to do so. She should be supported by law enforcement and the justice system. She should receive counseling and emotional support. She should be given safe passage to a new life. However, we do not live in a perfect world. We live in a world where Janay Palmer was not believed to be abused until there was hard evidence—the appalling video of her being knocked out with a single blow by an NFL athlete. Even with such brutal evidence, Ray Rice still has his defenders, and he will likely get third and fourth and fifth chances.