There have been a number of disturbing videos related to Ray Rice’s assault of his then-fiancé, now wife, that have been released to the public. Each one worse than the last. First was the video of Ray Rice dragging his unconscious partner out of an elevator and dropping her on the floor.
The second horrific video was the press conference Ray Rice held in May with a Baltimore Ravens backdrop and his victim by his side. He apologized to a number of people that day, none of whom were his wife. As a domestic violence advocate, I saw a woman terrified to say anything wrong. Terrified to have her true voice heard, instead talking about her supposed role in the assault.
The third horrific video was the second press conference Ray Rice held in July following the announcement of a lenient two-game suspension by the NFL. Mr. Rice stood before the cameras and repeatedly referred to an “incident.” He never once said that he punched his wife and needed to get help for committing domestic violence.
The fourth horrific video? I don’t think anyone needed to see the interior elevator footage to know what happened. And it’s irrelevant if anyone with the NFL or the Baltimore Ravens saw it before this week. The unconscious body being dragged out of the elevator is truly all the proof that was needed.
So what’s next? How do we move forward from an extremely negative situation and create positive change? There is the obvious need for the stricter penalties instituted by the NFL at the end of August following public outcry that domestic violence results in a shorter suspension than drug use. This is something that all professional sports teams should ensure, strong anti-domestic violence policies. Of course the key to stricter penalties is follow-through, and not just when TMZ leaks a video.
But change isn’t just needed at the corporate level. Mr. Rice has plenty of supporters. He was cheered when he walked out onto the practice field after the initial video had been released. You remember, the video where he drags his unconscious partner out of the elevator. Maybe the fans were giving him the benefit of the doubt since few seem to be cheering this week. It’s not to say that you can’t support a known abuser in getting help to change his or her behavior, but publicly lauding a sports figure or celebrity who clearly assaulted someone is questionable at best.
The NFL is well-positioned to raise awareness about domestic violence. It can partner with the National Network to End Domestic Violence and statewide domestic violence coalitions across the country. It can help raise awareness among its fan base about what domestic violence is because it’s not just a violent punch to the head. It’s a pattern of control and coercion that can be physical, emotional, verbal, sexual and financial. And it escalates over time. It’s unlikely that this highly publicized elevator assault was the first time Mr. Rice abused his wife.
And whatever we do, let’s not give credence to Mr. Rice’s opinion that he was provoked. The thing about change is that you have to accept responsibility for what you did wrong. This can be a difficult step for many domestic abusers, but it’s certainly not impossible. Although you won’t get there by saying that you were provoked, because nothing anyone says should ever be responded to with a fist. And you won’t get there by referring to the physical assault you committed against your partner as an “incident.”
This horrible situation for one woman has shed a very public light on what so many others face every day, including the more than 20,000 domestic violence victims served annually in Connecticut alone. I’ve heard many well-intentioned people respond to this situation by saying that “real men don’t hit women.” Yes, real men and real women do not hit their partner. They also don’t try to control their partner, call their partner names, tell their partner they’re worthless, become extremely jealous when their partner wants to spend time with someone other than them, or any other number of controlling, coercive actions that are just as troubling as hitting them. Share that message with just one person and you’ll be well on your way to making a difference.
Karen Jarmoc is the chief executive officer of Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Please call the statewide domestic violence hotline at 888-774-2900 if you or someone you know needs help.
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