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?