By Julie Boyd Cole
December 17, 2014 _ Twenty years ago, when I was first hit by my then-husband, the label “domestic violence” was a term used to describe classless couples who due to alcohol, economic station or poor up-bringing were unable to solve marital disputes in a better way.
Twenty years ago, when that label was applied to a couple, it might be said in the whispering tone of gossip or by an officer of the law trying to calm a couple down. Ten years before that, the less dramatic term more commonly used was “domestic dispute.”
In all of those cases, the word “domestic” implied that whatever was happening, it was a private matter to be solved by a husband and wife, who both needed to grow up and stop acting like bickering children. It was not really considered a crime.
Today, we have many terms to describe the horror of a domestic violence but until the Ray Rice elevator video released by TMZ this fall our collective conscious held this basic vision in our heads. It was a family matter the result of two people equally to blame or the victim argued her way into abuse.
That video gave millions of people a wake up call and a clear picture of abuse. It was an in-your-face picture that left no doubt that a woman was knocked out cold by her “loved-one” who clearly showing no signs of remorse for his actions.
As we all watched Rice drag his wife from that elevator, it was clear that he was not trying to revive her, care for her, check on her well-being or call 911. It was also clear that he was not having trouble controlling his anger. In fact, the lack of emotion shown when Rice punched his wife and then dragged her from the elevator hardly supports the abusers’ common excuse “I lost control of my temper because she made me so mad and I just snapped.”
The very tragic circumstances behind the moments blasted around the airwaves certainly invaded the Rice family privacy, and most likely re-traumatized Janay Rice for sure, but it also has changed dramatically the way we look at and talk about domestic abuse.
The emphasis is finally on the second word in that label instead of the first. Because domestic or not, that young woman could have died by the hand of another. Not only is that abuse, but in most circumstances, a crime.
I know that the NFL has taken a lot of heat for the handling of this circumstance, and I agree that their behavior is questionable at best, but that criticism sounds a lot like old-school blame of the reactions of others rather than holding the abuser accountable for his actions.
I wonder if all this hoopla is just another form of abuser drama created to deflect attention away from the wrong-doer’s behavior. My ex-husband is an NFL sportswriter who writes often about NFL abusers, and while we were married, doing it while privately beating his wife at home. Is it any wonder that for years professional athletes got away with so much?
I can’t imagine why any abuser would want to investigate another abuser’s action. The fear of disclosure alone would stop it.
The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence report that 1 in every 4 women will experience domestic abuse by their partner and 85% of these victims are women. That means that there are a lot of households out there with men abusing, millions in fact. There are journalist, lawyers, cops, judges, psychologist, businessmen, basically, from all walks of life.
And for decades, they have believed its OK.
When Ray Rice hit and knocked out his wife, all those men who don’t abuse, saw with their own eyes the ugly truth of domestic abuse. They saw for themselves that abusers aren’t driven to it, and victims don’t deserve it.
Thank you James Brown
They saw that something must be done about it and it starts with holding abuser accountable. If you want to hear that happen in action, Google NBC Commentary James Brown’s speech about the Rice abuse situation. Brown’s comments brought tears to my eyes.
Since that video has circulated around the country, I have received so much feedback about domestic abuse that it’s too hard to measure. From Twitters, to local groups that want me to speak, to football coaches, to NFL players’ wives, to journalist, to friends and family adding their voice and speaking up and out that abuse is wrong and abusers need to cut it out.
It’s the abuser who needs to grow up and stop hurting their family, but if they don’t, it’s the abuser who needs to be judged and held accountable. Not the victim.
My heart goes out to Janay Rice and I think about her often. I’ve been in her shoes. It’s not comfortable. I hope that she has strong support from family and friends. The journey of an abuse victim, especially one who shares children with their abuser, isn’t easy.
But, I am thankful that through that horrible, disgusting evaluator video, good is coming from it and victims in the future will remember Janay for her courage. And I believe that accountability for abuser and improving treatment of the victims is the best way to stop this epidemic. To be crass, Janay Rice definitely took one of the team.
The truth is now out, the bell can’t be un-rung. Abuser abuse without regard for others, only for themselves. Victims are not to blame. Abusers are.