I've never been physically abused by a man while in (or out of) a relationship... but I personally know a few victims and abusers, with no exclusivity when it comes to gender. I've been the listening ear and the encourager, as well as the uneducated, impatient and pitiless "why won't you just leave?" supporter.
Men abuse women. Women abuse men. Men abuse men. Women abuse women. Please note that anyone can become a victim at any time.
As adolescents, some of us are taught to keep our hands to ourselves. Some of us are raised to stand up to anyone who offers a physical threat. Some of us are told to walk away from confrontation and report the issue to a member of authority... because members of authority are supposed to protect us, correct? So why is everyone making such a big deal about domestic violence cases being overlooked when those authoritative people become well aware of what happened? Well, because many victims are afraid of remaining unprotected...
It's difficult to reverse a practice that we've been trained to think is universal: treat people how you want to be treated. How can we adhere to such behavior when our first instinct, when threatened, is to defend? And how can we come to terms with this notion when we are defending ourselves against someone we love?
I can only speak for women when describing our emotional reactions, due to heavy reliance on instinct. We instinctively know when something is wrong, when our well-being is at stake. However, there is some strange spirit within us that feeds our desire to nurture a companion and correct a problem, even when we know that it's a problem beyond our control.
I've followed this Ray Rice debacle closely, patiently waiting for more 'facts' to be revealed. Since the latest TMZ video leaked, displaying a clear visual of the actual assault, my opinion has fluctuated. As a woman, I immediately wanted to sympathize with Mrs. Rice and support her, from a distance, through her stage(s) of denial. But, after reading that she moved forward with marrying her abuser just one month after the elevator fight, one day after Ray Rice's indictment and the suspiciously speedy completion of court-ordered counseling, I wondered if she would even appreciate my concern. Then, my sympathy shifted towards Ray Rice. I can relate to the devastation of having your dream stripped away from you at the blink of an eye, or in this case, the strike of a Mayweather-like punch. When pursuing goals and living on cloud 9, after a while, it's easy to forget that you are subject to the same exact laws as non-celebrities. You are not invincible, nor are you exempt due to the privileges of your well-known status. Ray Rice received a pass, but fortunately and unfortunately, he was tackled and pushed back to the line of scrimmage when the NFL extended the initial two-game suspension to a more severe consequence of suspending him from the league indefinitely, after the Ravens released him from his contract.
The media has failed to accept the fact that Mrs. Rice had already made the choice to forgive him. While in the process of reconciliation and rebuilding his home life, this star Running Back was still under scrutiny, being taunted by various public outlets... the same way he taunted his then-fiancé by allegedly spitting on her before she retaliated with a light jab. Once inside the closed but monitored elevator, Ray Rice proceeded to lean in, continuing to verbally irritate her. She responded again with her fist and blocked his first attempt at a physical reprimand, but was not quick enough to move away from the last, almost-life-ending blow. The elevator must have been on an ironically, perfectly timed system because it remained sealed long enough for the knockout to take place with no witnesses present... besides those who had access to footage captured by the pre-installed surveillance.
Other than the argument of when NFL representatives actually saw the evidence, the most disturbing scene occurred when Ray Rice dragged the victim (the woman he was planning to marry) from the elevator, still leaving her near the automatic door. Then, he roughly kicked her limp body. Noticing that she was unconscious and not yet moving or reactive, he backed away, instead of checking her pulse or bending down to caress her, as a remorseful man/soon-to-be husband would do. The footage ends there, sadly allowing too much room for judgment and speculation.
Yes, it's true that Ray Rice deserved to be punished for his actions. According to legal documents, the investigation was still ongoing at the time the NFL blindly took a stance with their own poor action for justice. For those wondering why he did not face any jail time, the holdup/conflict in this case was the victim's cooperation, more so her refusal to press charges against the man she loves. It's evident that, at this time, she is not open to outside help or advice. She is firmly standing by her abuser, her husband, the father of her child. Although many of us have gotten to know his character on the field, only she knows the kind of man he is when he is not covered or hidden by his helmet and pads.
Ray Rice has been protected by his coaches, teammates and fans since he was professionally drafted after a successful college career at Rutgers in 2008. His wife isn't entitled to that form of loyal luxury by association. Now that he is unemployed and no longer able to rely on his body and image (endorsements lost too) for large amounts of income, she is literally in survival mode. The only way that she will ever be safe and able to overcome the fear of leaving is if she stops shifting the blame, accepts responsibility for her role in the matter and recognizes that it will probably happen again. Dismissing that likelihood, she broke her silence with an announcement via Instagram:
"If your intentions were to hurt us, embarrass us, make us feel alone, take all happiness away, you've succeeded on so many levels. Just know we will continue to grow and show the world what real love is!"
I don't quite agree with her sentiments, but if this is what "real love" looks like in the spotlight, I understand why many victims prefer to be 'loved' in the dark. This is not an argument on provocation. Regardless of who initiated the contact, the victim, whether male or female, still suffers. I believe that victims should NOT be exposed, privately or publicly. When they have nowhere else to go, they will usually seek shelter where they feel most comfortable... in the presence of their abuser. The pattern of repeat offenses will then occur, because more often than not, the person causing them pain is also the same person providing for them in multiple areas, while controlling their minds. Victims become mentally unstable, lacking the ability to think sensibly, with regard to their own lives, or any lives that depend on them to still be breathing the next day, or the next second. Likewise, a female victim shouldn't automatically assume that every man is chivalrous enough to respect her sensitive frame. Remember, we are all raised differently, so don’t strive to be the exception. THIS can happen to anyone, which means that if you are currently a victim of domestic violence, you are not alone. Please consider removing yourself from that unhealthy lifestyle, before it's too late. You may not believe it now, but your life has value and there is always someone out there who cares about your safety, your happiness and your peace of mind. I certainly do.