We’ve all heard the news by now. On Feb. 16 of this year, Baltimore Ravens star Ray Rice punched his then-fiance in an elevator after the two got into an argument, dropping her to the floor.
Rice was later indicted for third-degree aggravated assault, and a video was released showing the player dragging his future wife, limp and unresponsive, into the hallway with no look of concern or empathy. The NFL suspended him for only two games, leading to a media firestorm and league commissioner Roger Goodell’s statement in a letter to team owners that he “didn’t get it right” regarding the punishment’s length.
Despite that admission, it wasn’t until celebrity gossip website TMZ released a video taken within the elevator showing Rice delivering the punch that the Ravens terminated his contract and Goodell suspended Rice indefinitely.
I’ve heard the video be hailed for providing answers in the ongoing drama, but for me, its release and the shocked, concerned and horrified responses it elicited invoked an important question.
Why did people need to see the action itself, need to infringe on the victim’s privacy, to understand the horrific nature of domestic violence?
We knew that Rice had knocked out his girlfriend. The fact that it became exponentially more inexcusable after we saw the newest video proves society’s unfamiliarity with the concept of domestic violence, leading to a lack of empathy. This should not have been something people needed to see to believe. We need to talk more about domestic violence and the lasting harm it leaves.
To that point, the media repeatedly emphasizes, as if a mitigating factor in Rice’s case, that the woman involved is now his wife.
Her decision calls for no outside rationalization. Why she decided to stay with Rice is irrelevant. Questioning her decision or bringing it up in a discussion on his case is inherently victim blaming and disgusting.
That said, it is important to note that the very nature of abusive relationships makes it difficult for the victim to leave their abuser.
According to the National Network to End Domestic Violence, over 70 percent of domestic violence murders happen after the victim leaves the relationship. Additionally, it is estimated that 98 percent of abusive relationships involve economic abuse, which can make it difficult for victims to leave their abusers for monetary reasons.
The question is not, “Why did she stay?”
The question is, “Why did he do it?”
It’s bad enough that we live in a society where people in positions of power are unafraid to abuse their partner. It’s both repulsive and shameful. The last thing that a victim of abuse needs is for outsiders—who, more often than not, have little to no real insight into the relationship—to question the decisions that they make regarding the abuse.
Supporting a victim of domestic violence doesn’t take the form of questioning their reaction. Victim support is equivalent to tending to their emotional needs and trying your best to eradicate the crimes committed against them.
We need to work towards harsher social consequences for domestic violence by creating a societal climate that does not tolerate those who harm their partners. Additionally, we must must recognize that this cannot happen until we make victim guilt an unfathomable occurrence instead of the norm.
At the end of the day, it’s not our job to determine who others decide to date. However, domestic violence currently affecting one in four women and one in 10 men are figures that belong in the past. Is is our societal duty to change those statistics.