As a non-football fan, I had no idea who Ray Rice was until this week when the infamous video of him striking his then-fiancee (now wife), Janay became public.
While many people are justifiably horrified by the attack, just as many if not more are equally baffled/horrified that Janay Rice appears to be supporting her husband. (As of this writing Ms. Rice issued at least one public statement stating that the couple’s marriage “would continue to grow and show the world what real love is” while on Wednesday she told a poster on Instagram who criticized her decision to stay with him “get a f****ing life.”
While Janay Rice’s decision to stand by her abuser may seem odd to some, as someone who has been in abusive relationship, I understand all too-well how hard it is to just leave. I may not know anything about her, beyond what has been reported in the media, but I am willing to bet that her decision to stay has little or nothing to do with money like some critics have sneered and all to do with the cycle of domestic violence and the power that abusers exert over their victims.
For someone on the outside, however, it can be incredibly frustrating. When it is our friend, our family member, etc. we want to do something.
Unfortunately, many well-meaning people immediately say, “Leave ’em!” and rather than make the victim feel helped and supported, it only makes them feel alienated and pushes them away.
The truth is, in order to get out of an abusive situation the person who is being abused has to leave because s/he wants to. All too often being told to leave only adds to that feeling of being bullied/having no choices and even if they leave they may end up returning to their abuser. (Make no mistake that abusers tend to be master manipulators. The honeymoon period after a domestic assault is well-known and well-documented).
With all of this in mind, what can we do?
Three helpful ways to help victims of domestic abuse.
1. Let them know you’re there for them.
Abusers thrive on isolating their victims from others but especially supportive people. Letting someone know that you’re there for them just by saying it aloud can be huge.
When someone does confide the most important thing we can do is assure them that everything they say is confidential and will remain so. (In the Rice case, I thought it was telling that Janay said the media attention was humiliating. Many victims of domestic violence go out of their way to create perfect facades and/or paint an image vastly different than reality).
It can be tempting to want to tell others, especially if you believe they may be able to help, but without the victim’s express permission, do not share anything with anyone else unless it is a life-or-death situation.
2. Give them information on shelters, helplines or support groups. without insisting that they contact them.
Having the right information can be empowering and just knowing that there are resources available, as well as others in similar situations may be enough to motivate some to leave their abuser.
However it’s important not to insist that they contact or check out these resources.
A better approach may be to say something like, “I don’t know if you are aware of it but there is an organization in the area that helps victims of domestic violence. I am giving you the contact information just in case you ever decide you want to contact them.”
You may also want to say they are always welcome to come to your place as a safehouse if that is an option.
The first time I revealed that a then-boyfriend had gotten angry with me and thrown me into a door I had the person I was confiding in ask, “Well, what did you do to provoke him?” Even now, nearly 15 years later, I can recall how bad I felt. Even if it was not that person’s intention I somehow felt that I was the one to blame, or somehow my boyfriend’s actions had been justified.
The truth is, assaulting someone is wrong—period. It doesn’t matter what the victim said or if they weren’t “nice.”
Plus, while it may be tempting to want to know more, asking for greater detail can be traumatic for the person sharing their story and may even make them feel like they are re-living it.
All victims of abuse, albeit domestic or otherwise, need support and love—not rubberneckers and those who seem like they are just interested in salacious details of a real-life soap opera. All the latter does is reinforce the idea that they are alone and no one cares.
In conclusion, domestic violence is a complex problem and the reasons why so many victims chose not to leave can be even more complicated.
While it’s not possible for most of us to go in and save someone from such a situation, we nonetheless can help them, even if it doesn’t seem like much or as much as we would like to do.
As someone who has been on both sides of the fence I know how frustrating it can be. However, it is possible for victims of domestic violence to find the strength and support they need to leave and our help can even be instrumental.
In any case, it’s important for neither victims nor their loved ones to ever give up hope or the belief that something better is out there.
There is something better—even if it’s not immediately noticeable.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Ashleigh Hitchcock