I’m fairly certain most people with an internet connection and/or cable have heard of Ray Rice, the Baltimore Ravens running back who was indicted on charges of domestic violence for hitting his then-fiancée, Janay, in an elevator and knocking her out. The Ravens terminated his contract, and the NFL suspended him indefinitely, after video footage of the assault was leaked to the public by celebrity gossip site TMZ. I admit some level of surprise that TMZ has been involved in anything positive, but I do feel a debt of gratitude to Harvey Levin and his buddies for doing this and bringing to light the absurdly light charge levies against Rice.
He was indicted on assault charges, and all charges were dropped since he promised to take an anger management class.
Let that sink in. He slammed a woman, knocked her out, dragged her unconscious body out of the elevator, and he got diversion, not even a tap on the wrist for what he did.
This case highlights a few major problems, among many, many more.
First, when the story broke, people defended this creep. I kept up some Facebook threads with people defending him because “what is she did something to deserve it” and other crap reasons, intending to write a post and cite them. I got too upset, and closed out Chrome. The links are lost to me now, but the impact remains, as does the societal reflection. The victim was blamed without cause, and there is nothing a woman can say that would deserve a huge football player, or anyone, raising a fist to her and knocking her out. At least Vice President Joe Biden says that there is never an excuse.
Still, there are real human people who are defending Ray knocking Janay out! I can’t even say this is because he’s a football player. Men who abuse are often relieved of responsibility, women blamed because we “must have done something to deserve it.” Victim are even targets for mocking. Fox News (I mentally place quotes around “News”) commentators said, “I think the message is, Take the stairs.” I know, I know, Fox News should be ignored, but the problem is that ignoring them doesn’t change the fact that victims are ridiculed and abusers excused. Voddie Bachman doesn’t understand how what Ray Rice did is worse than someone drinking alcohol, using some drugs, or having pre- and extra-marital sex. “I think we need to demand an explanation as to why it is suddenly acceptable to drop the hammer on those who hit women or say bad things about preferred minority groups, but it’s evil to say that homosexuality is a sin.” I don’t even know how to respond to that.
Second, abusers are treated mildly by the legal system. For evidence, let’s look at another case Rice’s prosecutor and judge had just months prior. Pennsylvania mother Shaneen Allen carried a handgun that she had legally registered in Pennsylvania with her into New Jersey, where it wasn’t registered. Prosecutor Jim McClain refused to recommend a diversion program to help keep this single mother with her children, and Judge Michael Donio refused to go against McClain despite having the legal jurisdiction to do so. This mother, who harmed no one, faces 3 to 5 years in prison. What will happen to her sons?
McClain recommended Ray Rice go into a diversion program via anger management, and Donio signed off on this.
Let me repeat:
Ray knocked Janay out, and had no criminal charges filed.
Shaneen had a legally-registered gun with her when she crossed a border, and faces up to half a decade in prison, without harming a fly.
Same prosecutor. Same judge. Same court.
What’s different? Ray is a famous, rich football player, and Shaneen is a single mom without wealth or fame. (Race isn’t a factor here. Both are the same race.) Ray is a man in a system that excuses men, and Shaneen is a woman in a system where, well, if you want another example of harsher penalties for women, well…
Florida woman Marissa Alexander has been denied a self-defense hearing and faces 60 years in prison for firing a warning shot into a wall to get her abusive ex-husband to leave her alone after he backed her into a garage from which she couldn’t escape (her abuser is considered the victim, and charges against him? as if!) because “Stand Your Ground” doesn’t apply, while Florida man George Zimmerman chased an unarmed teen and killed him, and was cleared of all charges because “Stand Your Ground”…does apply. (Unfun fact: Possible-molester George Zimmermana, perhaps unsurprisingly, was arrested for domestic violence against his ex-wife involving a gun, and battered his new girlfriend and aimed a gun at her, both within three months of acquittal, and he faced no charges and can still own guns.)
What does this tell us? True victims of crimes are more likely to pay, sometimes with their freedom, through the legal system, while abusers are more likely to get off, even when they’ve killed.
Ray Rice, who harmed someone, has been excused. Shaneen Allen, who did not hurt anyone, will not be excused, and unless she has family willing to take her boys, they’re likely to end up in foster care because she most likely will go to jail.
The third problem this highlights is how much people don’t understand about victims of abuse. You may have noticed I didn’t give a last name for Ray Rice’s then-fiancée, Janay. She is now Janay Rice. In an UNsurprising turn of events, Janay is blaming the media for Ray’s suspension. As she said on her Instagram account, “To take something away from the man I love that he has worked his a** off for all his life just to gain ratings is a horrific [sic].” If he really hit her, why did she stay? Why defend him? Take a look at how women are viewed in America. Breasts used for breastfeeding babies are obscene, but baring them sexually is fine. We are objects, and we can only hear this so much from society before it starts sinking in, and when our abusers work systematically to make us feel worthless, incapable, unlovable, unworthy of life (an ex of mine had a life insurance policy on me, and after the two-year suicide exclusion, started encouraging me to kill myself when I was going through bouts of serious depression), we believe it because we’ve been groomed to accept objectification.
I used to write a show called Players, which was Ice T’s series television debut, and we would debate this endlessly on set. Relationships are a transaction, he said; sex is currency. He explained he didn’t believe in monogamy because “As much money as I’m bringing home, she should be going out and finding girls for me.”
FYI, I don’t seriously believe that’s how T actually conducts his marriage. But I do believe it colors his worldview. He would say Janay stays in an abusive marriage because it’s the pricetag for the Bentley and the bling.
I never thought of the violence as a price. I thought of it as a sign of passion. He [Ethlie’s ex] only got so jealous because he loooved me so much. He was so possessive only because he loooved me so much. He never meant to hurt me, he was always so apologetic, and who had ever been — or would ever be again — so totally out of his mind crazy about me?
(That part about abuse being the price for the Bentley and the bling sounds so alarmingly like the world’s favorite abusive, yet desirable, fictitious, sexy billionaire.)
Sadly, I thought of my ex raping me as a sign he wanted me so much that he couldn’t help himself, even if I said no and fought him. Let that sink in. I’m not the only survivor of abuse who’s viewed abuse as meaning someone loved and wanted me. (Wow, he wanted me, even though I was unlovable, awful, stupid, unworthy of life…but he wants me anyway. How awesome….) Ethlie and I aren’t the only ones.
As Bea Williams points out:
The truth is I know many women, who if they are completely honest with themselves, they also know these feelings and have also been victims of domestic abuse. They won’t admit it. Their silence is possibly because they don’t want anyone to know. It may also be because they don’t believe the verbal assaults or the mental manipulation count as domestic violence. It does.
Either way, I encourage you to stop pointing fingers. As a victim I can tell you your taunts creates a spirit of bitterness. It makes me want to isolate myself and it move closer to the person that is abusing you. It gives the abuser ammunition to say, “see, they don’t love you.”
I have MULTIPLE friends who don’t see verbal assaults as abuse. I will not give any identifying information or details, but suffice it to say, I am a confidential ear for more friends than I can count on one hand, all who are abused without a hand laid on them, none of them fully accepting it, if there’s been any move toward accepting it at all. More than once, for each of them, I’ve listened as they recounted things their significant others have said, necessities withheld, threats made against them. But because no hand has been laid, so far, it can’t be abuse. Just can’t be. Abusers always hit and rape, right? Wrong.
My abuser started it with words. Twice, one in Massachusetts and once in California, friends of his, who didn’t know each other, warned me about him. Since, at both of those time periods, he was only being verbal, I didn’t think he was abusive. The physical and sexual started before his earlier friends warned me, but had stopped for a few weeks, and he said he was sorry. I didn’t believe those guys that he was abusive since the physical stopped. Repeat this three years later in California. Even though, at that time, he had isolated me and cut off the phone and wouldn’t buy food (I had to resort to stealing from my parents’ cabinets so I’d have something to eat, and was too ashamed to tell them how hungry I was because he called me a selfish, fat pig), no hands had been laid on me in a couple months.
I see friends of mine going through the early stages of what I went through, and they don’t understand how it can get worse when their significant others apologize and really mean it this time, really!
Bea brings up an incredible point. Blaming victims does give abusers ammo to use. If victims can be loved, if they’re really not doing anything to deserve it, why are friends and family blaming the victims? Wow! Suddenly the abuser is really good because the abuser loves us even when our friends and family blame us!
Janay has been blamed in some media for marrying her abuser anyway, and she’s being blamed now for staying with him. Why not “just leave”?
No woman wants to admit being in an abusive relationship. He loves us! He’ll change! What if I leave and this is the time he would have changed? What if he kills me? Better to go into denial!
Yet Janay, like Rhianna, and almost every other survivor and current victim, is, or has been, blamed.
Ray Rice isn’t the first jerk to abuse. He won’t be the last. His case is just one more example of abusers being excused, and how, if any action gets taken, it’ll be a long time later when social media pressure forces action, in this case, the contract-cut and NF-suspension. Sadly, far more abusers will never face any punishment, and even more victims will be blamed.