Sleeping with the Enemy – How the Ray Rice story sheds light on a very dark place
Sportscasters and various pundits have offered a variety of responses to Ray Rice’s suspension from the NFL following the release of a video purportedly showing a violent interaction with his then girlfriend (now wife). Suspicion abounds as to whether the league was aware of the video and chose not to react in light of the criticism it received earlier in the summer over Rice’s two-game suspension for what a shorter video revealed. Is it enough for the NFL to merely punish him, or should the league have done more? While a critique of the NFL is certainly warranted, it would seem that additional attention should be paid to the actions of the central characters in this saga; namely, those of Ray and Janay Rice.
What is seen in this case is a very public portrayal of something that is often played out in private. Domestic violence tends to have a sadly predictable script. Typically an abuser seeks forgiveness for his actions, which is subsequently granted by his victim in hopes that the abuse will stop. It doesn’t. In fact, it generally increases over time as the cycle continues. Often the escalation results is the intervention of law enforcement, but even then, the victim tends to have second thoughts and either withdraws charges or refuse to press charges all together. In the most extreme cases, the victim ends up hospitalized or, worse yet, dead. Sadly, the pattern itself is self-defeating with tragic results that can often be avoided if the pattern is sufficiently broken by the abused, the abuser, or both.
This pattern is not only statistically supported; it appears to be rather accurately on display in the Ray Rice scenario. Upon the release of the partial video and two-game suspension by the NFL, Rice appeared genuinely remorseful for his actions and the fans were willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, hoping that this was an isolated incident. Even his wife, by marrying him (the abuse in question took place while she was still his fiancé), demonstrated the forgiveness typically granted to an abuser by his victim. Even after the longer video was released and her husband was fired by his team and further suspended by the NFL, she continues to defend him. Violent altercations like this are rarely isolated incidents, and the continued support of his wife indicates that the Ray Rice domestic violence problem is far from solved, actions by the NFL not withstanding.
Unlike many instances of domestic violence, this one was captured on video and the individuals involved were high profile figures. More than 60 percent of domestic violence incidents occur at home where they are less likely to be recorded on video. Most of these are never reported. Domestic violence is widespread. One in every four women will experience some form of domestic violence in her lifetime. Domestic violence also knows no socioeconomic barriers. It’s not a black, white, rich, poor, gay, straight, Republican or Democratic problem. It’s a human problem.
A case can be made that Ray and Janay Rice have a unique opportunity to get the help they need precisely because their case is so public. At the same time, many celebrities fall into the trap of trying to portray their lives as better than they actually are. There is still hope for Ray Rice, not as a professional football player (that ship has sailed), but help is available to help his violent outbursts if he wants it. Likewise, help is available for Janay, but she has to overcome her denial first.
Their need for help has received very little attention in the media frenzy around them. In the midst of critiques of the NFL’s actions, the focus has been on what the league did to punish Ray Rice, as if punishment is enough. Is anyone asking what if any action has been taken by the NFL to provide help to him and his wife? If anything, merely suspending him, irrespective of how quickly and assertively the league acted, is meaningless if Ray Rice (alleged abuser) and Janay Rice (alleged victim) never get the help they need to overcome the challenges before them.
Help is available to victims of domestic violence.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline: (800) 799-7233; The National Sexual Assault Hotline: (800) 656-4673; The National Teen Dating Abuse Hotline: (866) 331-9474.