Sorry, Janay Rice, but domestic violence isn’t a private matter

After the public’s outraged response to violent video of football player Ray Rice punching his wife, Janay, in an elevator, today she defends him on Instagram:

I woke up this morning feeling like had a horrible nightmare, feeling like I’m mourning the death of my closest friend…no one knows the pain that the media & unwanted options from the public has caused my family.

Janay’s words echo a public domestic violence case in San Francisco where I live, when in 2012, video evidence surfaced that city’s new sheriff, Ross Mirkarimi, had abused his wife, Eliana Lopez. At a news conference after his swearing in, Mirkarimi called the situation “a private matter. A family matter.” A few months later, upset that the Bay Area public didn’t want an abuser as the sheriff, Lopez defended her husband in an op-ed for the local paper:

From the beginning, my public voice has been ignored and treated as irrelevant. Many in the media keep saying that I just don’t get it. But I do get it: I get that I am being used to bring my husband down…Ross has paid an unfair price for his side of our family disputes. I have paid a terrible price, too. So has our son, Theo. The man I married is a wonderful man, a considerate father, and a loyal public servant who is demonstrating his ability to become better in all ways.

Violence is not a private matter. Abusers tend to offend repeatedly, often ending with the death of the woman. When Janay Rice or Eliana Lopez defend the violence, it’s much more than “not getting it” but helps to put all women at risk. Until we all take a stand and recognize that violence against women is not a private matter, it will continue to be epidemic in the USA and around the world. Here are some stats:

 One in four women (25%) has experienced domestic violence in her lifetime.

 

Nearly three out of four (74%) of Americans personally know someone who is or has been a victim of domestic violence.

 

Domestic violence is one of the most chronically under reported crimes.

 

Only approximately one-quarter of all physical assaults, one-fifth of all rapes, and one-half of all stalkings perpetuated against females by intimate partners are reported to the police.

 

On average, more than three women are murdered by their intimate partners in this country every day.

While some argue to look away, that watching the video of Rice abusing his wife is voyeurism, Peggy Orenstein, author of Cinderella Ate My Daughter has another opinion, writing on her Facebook page:

So, I’ve decided one should watch the video and discuss it with kids who are of an age where they will likely see it, ESPECIALLY boys. Because it is adult men who decided Rice only warranted a 2-game suspension when they saw him dragging his unconscious fiancee out of an elevator. And because when they handed down that suspsension they made this comment, which shows that they really can’t conceptualize what domestic violence really is or what it means to hit a person so hard she goes unconscious: “We respect the efforts Ray has made to become the best partner and father he can be. That night was not typical of the Ray Rice we know and respect. We believe that he will not let that one night define who he is, and he is determined to make sure something like this never happens again.”

 

I agree with her. We need educate the next generation much better than we have in the past about violence against women. If we can’t recognize it, we can’t stop it. Goodell didn’t see the video, do we want to look away too? The Washington Post reports on Goodell’s reaons for ignoring the footage:

The NFL claims in a statement that no one in the league office had previously seen the tape. That is almost surely not the truth, unless the NFL wanted it that way. This is a league that works with Homeland Security, confers with the Drug Enforcement Agency, collaborates with law enforcement and has its own highly equipped and secretive private security arm. You’re telling me it couldn’t get a hold of a grainy tape from an Atlantic City casino elevator? But TMZ could?

 

Of course, as someone comments on Reel Girl’s Facebook page, when Goodell saw the first video, what did he think happened inside that elevator, that Rice kissed his wife on the ear? Last May, when Brown’s receiver Josh Gordon failed a marijuana test, Goodell suspended the player for a full year, but after watching Ray Rice drag his unconscious wife out of an elevator, the commissioner opted for a 2 game suspension.

I’m deeply sorry for Janay and the horrible time that she’s going through, but this isn’t only her problem. As long as Americans look the other way when domestic violence happens, it will never stop being a national epidemic. A crucial next step? Fire Roger Goodell. He doesn’t deserve to be the Commissioner of the NFL.

Update: Janay Rice makes another public statement: I want people to respect our privacy in this family matter.”

Jeffrey Toobin makes a similar point as I did here, writing for CNN: “It’s not up to victims to decide whether their husbands should be prosecuted. Abusers damage the community, not just the women they assault.”

I am not blaming Janay Rice. There are complicated reasons why women stay, and I have no idea what she has to say right now in order to be safe, but again, her abuse is not a private matter. To support that myth of privacy, of abuse being “a family matter” is to support a culture of violence towards women.

7 thoughts on “Sorry, Janay Rice, but domestic violence isn’t a private matter

  1. Domestic violence never should be a public matter. It is a big difference between the violence in the street and the violence you can find in a family. For start the closeness inside a family make frictions and clash of interests and wills just natural; after, inside a family there are a lot of mutual understanding, complicities, complex direct and indirect compensations that people outside the family cant see; besides it could be shared responsability of the violence, and finally family system of values have not to be shared with other people. In other hand family sovereignty is what makes family really special, strong and valued enough to make any sacrifice for it.

    Only in reiterative really very serious cases, I think it is convenient that someone intervene, but it is the extend family job. If there is not solution and the supposed victim is willing to do it, the best option is the separation or divorce. State intervention should be the very last option for really extreme cases.

  2. The only myth is to think that domestic violence is public. It is a big difference between the violence in the street and the violence you can find in a family. For start the closeness inside a family make frictions and clash of interests and wills just natural; after, inside a family there are a lot of mutual understanding, complicities, complex direct and indirect compensations that people outside the family cant see; besides it could be shared responsability of the violence, and finally family system of values have not to be shared with other people. In other hand family sovereignty is what makes family really strong and valued over anything else.

    Only in reiterative really very serious cases, I think it is convenient that someone intervene, but it is the extend family job. If there is not solution and the supposed victim is willing to do it, the best option is the separation or divorce. State intervention should be the very last option for really extreme cases.

  3. I have an older brother who beats the women that he dates, marries, cheats with, etc. I’ve taken a hard line in my large family about how atrocious this is. In fact, I’ve distanced myself from my family. I refuse to he alone with him because I see that I belong to the gender that he attacks.

    In the last 10 years, I’ve had two well-educated women friends explain away their physical abuse. Both told me in their own words that it was abuse. I refused to give them the warped compassion that they wanted. I’ve always drawn a hard line on this because of my brother.

    I’m glad to hear lots of voices in public decrying this horrible problem. And I’m particular ly mad at Janay’s parents for allowing their daughter to marry the scumbag. Now I’m wondering who else abuses women in this whole situation. Remember, Ray Rice did a shout out to his father-in-law during that acting-filled press conference.

    My only hope is that we as a culture finally say enough is enough in tolerating women beating!

  4. Hi Margot
    this is hard for me to phrase so forgive me. I was in an emotionally abusive relationship it was distressing and horrible but the reason i stayed (and other reasons) was because it kept those who bullied me at bay because they thought there was some sort of alpha male at large.
    Janay’s living situation is not clear and you must remember sometimes you won’t understand someones actions when there in this situation. we should be careful to criticise her and instead should be crtisiising the system and society that lets this take place. When i found out something was wrong with the guy i was with even though he treated me like hell i tried everything to help him because he was what i had. Please also remember that in an other way it is humiliating and having other people especially the media know that would hurt. having to explain my situation to a professional really took it out of me.
    i can’t really to find a way to end this comment but thats my thoughts they aren’t very collected so sorry again

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  6. I think that you have a lot of wonderful information here and a good perspective. But be careful that you are not blaming the victim. While it may feel like Janay is defending the violence, you have to remember that she is still living in that situation and statements like that may be more about her own safety. We have no idea what her situation looks like on a daily basis. Focus on his behavior instead of her.

    • Hi Kelly,

      I am not blaming Janay, and I understand that it’s a hard topic to write about because people will misconstrue that I am, but I can’t not write in fear that some will twist my words. Yes, the focus is on his behavior, but it’s also about the REACTION to his behavior and that reaction must be recognized and addressed in order to stop DV.

      Margot

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