Ray Rice: The Domestic Violence Perspective

I want to begin by stating that I know absolutely nothing about sports. When I say nothing, I’m not exaggerating. My knowledge of sports is about as comprehensive as a headline at the top of Yahoo’s Home Page, so pardon me if my perspective seems a little skewed.

I believe that there are several facets to this story that can be explored, but I wanted to start off with one of the most obvious: The domestic violence perspective.

As someone who has worked in the field of human services for more than a decade, I have seen all types of people walk through the doors of my various offices. Some of my most poignant experiences were with women that had been victims of domestic violence.

When I use the term victim, I am considering the legal term associated with being the person beaten and not the abuser. There are other victims of domestic violence: children and other family members especially, that become collateral damage when anger and abuse strike at the heart of a home.

When I watched the 3-minute video of Ray Rice and his then fiancée posted by TMZ on Monday, my heart sank for several reasons. I watched it more than once so I could make sure I didn’t miss anything.

In the first part of the video, it appears that Mr. Rice is waiting for Janay and, as she passes him, it looks as though he spits on her. She swats at him in response and appears to say something while heading to the elevator.

The scene then cuts to their argument in the elevator where it appears, at least to me, like he either spits on her again, or says something in her ear. Whatever his action was, it resulted in her turning around and coming toward him. Rice then punches her in mid-stride and she falls, hitting the railing of the elevator and falling unconscious on the floor.

The elevator doors open and Rice picks her up and attempts to drag her out of the elevator with one shoe falling off her limp foot. She isn’t moving. When he can’t seem to pick her up after multiple attempts, he then holds the door open and begins dragging her again.

It looks as if a security guard stops them and holds the elevator door open while Janay is pulled into a sitting position.

None of us have any real idea of what happened before the camera started rolling or after the video ended. It was a 3:34 minute snapshot of a relationship.

As a woman, I begin to question several things as I watched it. First, I asked myself if this was the first time he had hit her. Then I asked myself if it mattered whether or not it was the first time. There’s no way to know what is in either of their hearts and what goes on behind the closed doors of their home.

All we see is 3:34 minutes of anger and pain between two people who, after this event took place earlier this year, still decided to marry.

It is easy to speculate while sitting on the sidelines of all this. Anyone can criticize the actions of someone else when they are not in the situation themselves; when they are far removed from the event and don’t know the people involved. It is easy to judge. It is easy to cast blame, even in the span of 3:34.

Since I don’t know either of these people personally, I’m going to try to delve into a couple of different aspects of this from a domestic violence perspective.

Domestic violence is defined by the U.S. Department of Justice as “a pattern of abusive behavior in any relationship that is used by one partner to gain or maintain power and control over another intimate partner.  Domestic violence can be physical, sexual, emotional, economic, or psychological actions or threats of actions that influence another person. This includes any behaviors that intimidate, manipulate, humiliate, isolate, frighten, terrorize, coerce, threaten, blame, hurt, injure, or wound someone.”

(Here is the link to the page: http://www.justice.gov/ovw/domestic-violence.)

When we use this definition, even a three-minute snapshot of someone’s life can at least determine that this would be considered Domestic Violence. It can happen in any demographic and with any socioeconomic status.

Should a three-minute video define Ray Rice as an abuser forever? Should this snapshot of his life and his relationship mean that he should lose his career and financial stability?

Let’s take a look at it for a moment. Had he ever hit her before? We don’t know. Did he hit her after this incident? Still: we don’t know. Did he seek counseling for anger management? Did she seek counseling for her aggressive behavior toward him? These are all facts that we, as the viewing public, don’t have.

I’m not going to define Ray Rice forever because I just don’t know what happened since this incident. I’m not going to say that Janay Rice is stupid for staying with him because I don’t know if he had redeemed himself appropriately in her eyes since the incident.

What I do know is that Ray Rice’s career is over and his reputation is damaged forever because three minutes of videotape. Should it? I don’t know.

My concern is also from a legal standpoint: As far as I know, neither Ray Rice nor Janay have been charged with assault. I don’t know how I would feel about losing my job for an incident in which had not been tried and convicted in a court of law. Advertisers can take away their endorsement deals if it is in the contract, but can the NFL suspend him indefinitely? I suppose if there is a morals clause in his contract, then they have that authority.

The only way he can redeem himself in the public’s eyes and have a shot at any career again is to discuss what he did after the incident. Does he believe he was wrong? How has he changed? Has he gone to therapy?

It is difficult to feel empathy or sympathy for someone that views himself as a victim of publicity when he was not the one lying unconscious on the elevator floor.

Now, about Janay.

I read her tweet after TMZ posted the video. As someone who worked with victims of domestic violence, I can see her perspective. She and her husband have dealt with the situation and having it resurface publically only reopens the wound. Still, I just don’t agree with her. I can’t.

Mostly because I believe the following:

  • No woman deserves to be hit; especially by someone who claims to love her.
  • One incident is enough to show you the character of the person.
  • Being hit when he’s drunk doesn’t just mean that he only has a drinking problem. He also has an aggression problem that needs to be addressed.

Self-esteem is important in any relationship. A man that strips that from you and then tries to beat you into submission is no man at all.

Still, I don’t think all is lost for Mr. Rice. Hopefully, he and his wife have been through counseling to find ways to resolve their issues without alcohol or violence. Hopefully there can be a happy ending for this family.

Eventually, the dust will settle. The cameras will stop following them. TMZ will stop posting things (someday). The news reports will go back to other, more current topics.

Life as we know it will go on.

Then again, we do live in a society of consumption, and for some reason, I see a reality television show in their future? Something called “Fried Rice” perhaps?

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Robin Williams: The Burden of Being Brilliant

I have not posted anything regarding the death of Robin Williams because I wanted to stay out of the discussion in honor of his family and his memory. I agree with his wife: I felt it was more important to focus on how he lived than how he died.

After all, none of us are the sum total of how we leave this world, but what we do while we are here. Did we make a positive impact? Did we do something that changed someone’s life for the better?

I think that in the case of Robin Williams, the answer to both of those questions would be “yes.”

Rather than go into detail regarding his passing, I do think it is important to address the circumstances that apparently lead to his death: depression.

I have been in the human service field for 13 years. I have worked with hundreds of people with disabilities during that time; many of which were experiencing severe and chronic depression.

I’m not an expert and I don’t pretend to be. There is no M.D. or PhD behind my name, but I have seen what depression does to the human mind, the human heart, the human body, and the human spirit.

I have seen it take brilliant and talented people and turn them into frightened souls afraid to leave their homes. I have seen it cause physical pain and discomfort. I have seen it destroy lives and families. I have seen it force those suffering from it to turn to alcohol and drugs as an escape from the anguish that always returns.

I have seen it kill.

There is no easy solution to addressing it. For some, therapy provides a positive means of managing each crisis as it arises. For others, medication coupled with ongoing treatment by a professional is the answer.

It is a tough road to travel and many people find themselves travelling it alone. Without support and without treatment, recovery is almost impossible.

The pressures placed on the average person trying to support a family and live in this consumption-based society are hard enough to manage.

Can you imagine how challenging it was to be in the entertainment industry for 40 years? Can you imagine how difficult it would be to live up to not only your own expectations and your family’s expectations, but also the expectations of the world? Can you imagine what it was like to have to be funny all the time? What must it be like always having people expecting you to perform on a whim – and not just a few people, but millions? What must it be like to be known for your quick wit and improvisation?

Would you ever feel like you could just turn it off? Would you ever feel like you could go anywhere and just allow yourself some rest from having to be what everyone else expects of you all the time? Think of having millions of strangers look at you — waiting for you to do something spectacular.

What if you just didn’t have it in you anymore? What if you did have it in you, but you wanted to let it out on your terms and not someone else’s? What if you had to live this life under a microscope; to be judged by people you don’t even know and who don’t even know you? What if your entire career was based on your skill?

What if you felt weakened from it all? What if you felt like your suffering was burdening those around you, dragging the people you love along with you for the ride? What if you felt like you were causing the unhappiness of everyone you loved?

What if you felt like you had to medicate this never-ending pain just to survive, but you couldn’t go to a doctor, because the world would know and judge you for trying to give yourself enough strength to wake up in the morning and just be what they needed to you be?

What if the career you fought so hard to build and keep was now tearing you down?

What if, one day, it was just too much?

I never had the honor of meeting Robin Williams, but I saw him as an incredible entertainer, comedian, … a brilliant human being. He touched so many lives with his comedy and with acting on the large and small screens.

He was amazing, but there is a burden to being brilliant all the time.

We, as a society, really need to rethink how we treat stars, and this man was a star. Should we chase them down with our cameras and cell phones? Should we frequent entertainment websites that make money off the consumption of someone else’s talent? Should we continue to view them as perfect, and as such, expect them to be perfect all the time? Should we tear them down when they fail to meet our lofty expectations, allowing the media to make advertising along the way.

These are people, not products.

There is a difference between a celebrity and a star.

A celebrity is someone that wants to be consumed, even at his or her own peril. It is someone that has no talent for anything other than being in the limelight. (I’m certain you can come up with your own examples of people like this. I won’t give them the benefit of mentioning their names here.)

A star, however, is someone with a gift: someone that shares that gift with the world and makes it a better place just by being in it.

Robin Williams was a star and he needs to be remembered that way. Period.

 

In Support of All Love Stories

          I have always been a romantic. When I was growing up, I would sit by the window in my den with a notebook and a pen, writing poetry and fantasizing about a “Prince Charming” that I wasn’t even sure existed. In my dreams, we would marry, have two children, and live in a large house with a wraparound porch and an oak tree in the front yard. It was a nice love story.

          As I have grown older, I have learned that there are all types of love stories other than the typical “boy meets girl.” Sometimes “boy meets boy.” Sometimes “girl meets girl.” Sometimes, love isn’t as clean-cut as a little girl’s dreams, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t real and shouldn’t be valued just the same.

          Until now, I haven’t given my opinion on gay marriage for two simple reasons: First, I didn’t think I had the right to speak about the topic because I have always felt like an outsider because I’m straight. What experience can I bring to the table? What understanding do I have other than observation? Second, I didn’t think I could speak intelligently about the subject because I haven’t experienced the same stigma, discrimination, and other challenges that are faced by my friends in the LGBT community.

Still, I feel compelled to speak out in support of gay marriage, not for political reasons, but for personal ones. I have so many friends with same sex partners that are deeply in love. To me, it is illogical for them not to be allowed to get married and have that marriage recognized in every legal and social way possible.

I have personally seen just as many loving, long-term gay relationships as I have long-term straight relationships. In this world where unconditional love is incredibly hard to find – when meeting someone that shares your dreams, your goals and your values can be an almost impossible task, why prevent two people from committing themselves to one another if they so choose?

Perhaps I’m being too simplistic in my analysis. Why don’t I just discredit some of the arguments against gay marriage.

         THE “IT’S NOT NATURAL/IT’S A CHOICE” ARGUMENT

          Let’s start with the assertion by some that being gay is unnatural. My initial response is YES IT IS. I’m not an expert, but I knew at a very early age that I liked boys. It didn’t matter if they liked me or not, I liked them. I never had a doubt or a question. It was natural for me. It was something that I didn’t have to think about. Individuals who are gay (and this is just a guess) probably feel drawn to the same sex when they reach that critical age of sentience. The difference is that these individuals are often told that how they feel is “wrong.” They are sometimes told that who they are is wrong. They may not grow up with the benefit of a supported family that accepts them unconditionally.

Scores of gay and lesbian teenagers don’t enjoy this kind of comfort, and they deserve to feel loved and accepted for being themselves. They don’t deserve to feel marginalized, nor do they deserve to experience depression so severe that sometimes they feel no other choice than to take their own lives.

Being gay is not a choice! It is a fact. It is a reality and not something that can be created or changed by some external force.

Sexuality is so much more complicated that sex and romance. It is more complicated than the person you date. It is about the reason you date them. Sexual orientation is a part of a person’s identity and an important part. It includes a manner of feeling and relating to the world and to others. It encompasses an entire worldview as well as understanding one’s place in that world. It’s not simply a lifestyle – it is a life.

Once again: BEING GAY IS NOT A CHOICE. The only choice a person makes is whether or not they are true to who they are and date based on their attraction and happiness.

MYTH: ONLY MEN AND WOMEN SHOULD GET MARRIED BECAUSE ONLY MEN AND WOMEN CAN PRODUCE CHILDREN, ETC., ETC.

          It may shock some people to know that woman can get pregnant without being married to a man. I know. Scary isn’t it? Nevertheless, it happens quite often (too often actually, but that’s a blog for another time.)

At any rate, it doesn’t take a man and a woman to make a baby. It takes access to a sperm and an egg to make a baby. A family is made up of so much more, and in this ever-changing social climate, it doesn’t make much sense to simply limit the definition of family to heterosexual married man and woman.

While I can appreciate the reality that the sexes evolved to continue the human race, there is such a thing as adoption and in vitro fertilization that allow loving and committed couples have children and grow their own families.

There are also millions of children out there that need loving homes. Both gay and straight couples can provide a positive environment for children. Both gay and straight couples can teach children love and kindness, compassion and patience, honesty and forgiveness.

Oh, and one more thing: gay couples don’t make gay children simply due to proximity. Sexual orientation is not socially passed from one person to another.

MYTH: GAY MARRIAGE ERODES THE VERY FABRIC OF SOCIETY AND PROMOTES IMMORALITY

            I have a confession to make: my guilty pleasure is watching the Maury show. I know. I know. It’s terrible of me and I don’t watch it every day. I suppose I could rationalize it by saying that it has to do with my curiosity at examining the human condition. I could say I’m engaging in some sociological research, but the truth is, it’s like watching a scary movie. You know it might scare the crap out of you, but you just can’t take your eyes off it for some reason.

Every now and again, I see these people – all straight – yelling and screaming at one another about how they got drunk and slept with someone; that the child on the television screen doesn’t look like them and they didn’t believe that one sexual encounter could result in a life being born. I watch them talk about threesomes and not knowing who the father of their child is, but chastising the person they brought to be tested for not “stepping up to be a parent.” I watch them talk about how “it just happened,” and “one thing led to another.”

Tell me something: how are these heterosexual hookups more valid relationships than two women that have loved each other for 15 years and want to enjoy the emotional, social, and legal benefits of marriage? How could this loving lesbian couple be damaging to society when we have straight men attributing their manhood to how man women they can “tap” and straight women using sex as emotional currency? How are two men that that dance together on a first date more of a threat than the two straight girls that are kissing at the bar in order to turn on their male counterparts? It is absurd to think that gay relationships and marriage will be the downfall of American Society.

Society is falling apart on its own — without the help of any one specific group. What truly tears at the fabric of society is hate and ignorance. What tears at the fabric of society is the lack of independent thought and subjugation of one’s own beliefs to satisfy another’s agenda. What tears at the fabric of society are a lack of personal responsibility for one’s actions, and a lack of acceptance of those that are different. What tears at the fabric of society is apathy. What tears at the fabric of society is a lack of faith: in one’s God, or oneself, or in one’s own belief system. What tears at the fabric of society is the systematic unraveling of the threads that tie us together. It is our differences that enrich us as a people. Celebrating those differences and enjoying the richness of that diversity is what will bring us together. We can’t call it humanity without it.

MYTH: GAY RELATIONSHIPS ARE MORALLY WRONG OR SINFUL 

            I was raised in a Christian household and I do believe in God. I also believe in a merciful and understanding God. I believe in a God that does not make mistakes, and since people who are gay are born gay, I guess that means they are not mistakes either.

Ok, that sounded way too logical.

Let’s try this: Doubters quote the Bible (Leviticus Chapters 18 and 20) when asserting that gay relationships are an abomination (Although it only mentions men lying with men, and not women lying with women.)

Let’s consider that, according to the Bible, we are all born sinners. Let’s also consider the fact that the Bible also condones polygamy, and condemns adultery. Women are forced to bear the pain of childbirth and experience monthly reminders of this fact because Eve seduced Adam into eating from the tree of knowledge. Women are also heralded as powerful human beings that can sustain life within our own bodies and who should be honored as mothers.

Envy, greed, wrath, vanity, gluttony, sloth, and pride…. all deadly sins, yet we are all equally guilty of them regardless of our sexual orientation and not as a result of it.

It is easy to call gay relationships sinful because it is easy to condemn something if you view it as strictly a political issue. I don’t look at the issue as political. I look at it as personal. I have wonderful, loving, amazing friends and to me, it would be un-Christian of me to judge them and their relationships based on one bible verse written thousands of years ago.

Each individual is responsible for his or her own mortal and immortal fate. I’m not God. I will not judge them. I will love them and accept them as they have accepted me. I will enjoy their kindness, their intelligence, their humor, and all the other wonderful things about my friends and respect their choice to live and love as they please, just as they respect my right to do the same.

A FINAL THOUGHT ABOUT GAY MARRIAGE

            I’m not trying to be politically correct in my support of gay marriage. I speak only for myself: not my employer, or my family, or anyone else. Having lived a little more than 40 years, I’ve learned a thing or two about love. I have been married, divorced and remarried. Am I better than the gay couples that I know who have been together for 15 to 20 years with the same person? No.

Love transcends many things: age, race, religion, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, etc., but even with this truth, it is still the most elusive emotion when it comes to connecting with another person. It is so hard to find someone to love in these trying times. It is so hard to meet someone that you can be yourself with – Someone with whom you can share your dreams and your secrets and your fears. How dare anyone say that love can’t transcend gender as well! How dare anyone say that two people that share a bond of love can’t be together because they are the same sex! I believe that two mature, unrelated, consenting adults should be able to share their lives together and get married if they so choose. I believe they should enjoy the benefits and protections that marriage can provide. I believe that love, real love, is stronger than anything – especially politics.