On September 9, the NFL decided to suspend Ray Rice indefinitely after footage of him abusing his then-fiancé, Janay Rice (née Palmer) was released by TMZ.
Many people have applauded the NFL for the harsh punishment. The NFL’s previous decision to suspend Rice for only two games caused uproar for being too lenient.
However, many people did not stop at applauding the NFL and decided to criticize the victim, Janay Rice, for deciding to marry an abusive man.
This victim-blaming sparked an online movement propelled by the hashtag #WhyIStayed, where women have shared personal stories of why they decided to stay in abusive relationships – oftentimes for their personal safety. The movement was started by writer Beverly Goodman. On her blog she explained why she started the hashtag:
“When TMZ released the video of Ray Rice punching, dragging, and spitting on his wife this morning, the internet exploded with questions about her. Why didn’t she leave? Why did she marry him? Why did she stay? I can’t speak for Janay Rice, but I can speak for Beverly Gooden. Why did I stay?…Leaving was a process, not an event. And sometimes it takes awhile to navigate through the process.”
It’s not easy for many women to get out of abusive relationships. In a segment on MSNBC’s “All in With Chris Hayes,” Liz Plank, a Senior Editor at Mic.com, and MSNBC contributor Goldie Taylor discussed the costs and benefits of staying in an abusive relationship. Leaving, as Plank says, “is the most dangerous moment” in the life of a woman who is abused. Plank goes on to explain that women of color are only eight percent of the population, but make up one-fifth of homicide partner victims. Half of those women are killed when they try to leave.
I personally find Janay Rice’s decision to stay with Ray Rice to be very confounding. I understand that many women decide to stay in abusive relationships for their own safety, but Janay has all the money and resources in the world to get herself out. Perhaps she worked things out with Ray, but most abusers don’t abuse just once. It’s in their DNA. If Ray beat up Janay once, chances are he’s done it before and has continued to do it after. Also, why would you want to work things out with an abusive man who publicly apologized to everyone but you, the victim?
That being said, we should not focus our attention on Janay. Ray is the abuser and who Janay decides to spend the rest of her life with is none of our business. All we can hope is that Janay has a strong support network to protect her if Ray abuses her again. In addition, we need to hold institutions like the NFL accountable for their players’ criminal acts. Instead of covering up players’ crimes, the NFL needs to acknowledge these crimes directly and address them fairly and in full accordance with the law. Though the NFL did ultimately decide to suspend Rice indefinitely, a law enforcement official said he sent the footage to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell months prior, thus before Rice was suspended for only two games. That means that the footage only made a difference in Goodell’s mind once it was released to the public and only after the NFL received backlash from fans and women’s rights activists.
The biggest lesson we can take from this incident is to look out for your family and friends and most importantly, yourself. If someone you know is in an abusive relationship, be their support network. Help them find a safe time to leave and report the abuser to the authorities. No one deserves to be abused, nor should any woman be judged for her decision to stay in an abusive relationship. None of us really know Janay Rice. All we can hope is that she is getting the help she needs.
In other sports news, this kitty won MVP of his soccer team!