Like everyone else, I watched the Ray and Janay Rice story unfold with no small measure of horror. The video in the elevator that went viral made me feel sick. The video where he spits and hits the woman who would go on to be his wife, where he knocks her unconscious and drags her out of the elevator. It’s enough to give you nightmares.

I believe the response to the video has been equally nightmarish. Within moments of the video going viral, “Beats by Ray” began trending on Twitter, as folks chimed in to an unfunny joke. The more supposedly thoughtful responses haven’t been much better. There’s been a lot of victim blaming going on. A lot of “well, she married him” and “she knows where the money’s at,” as if money were enough to cushion that blow. A lot of derailing arguments like “she hit him first,” or “I was taught that you never hit a man,” as though Janay Rice were evenly matched to Ray Rice’s powerful physique, as though her ineffectual swipes could justify the level of brute force she received. So many statements full of judgment, all defending the beloved abuser and coming down on the victim.

I don’t understand how you can see that brutality and find any kind of justification for it. I don’t understand how you can watch that video and blame the victim.

I don’t know Janay Rice, but I am worried about her and her daughter. I’m worried about her state of mind and her safety, especially in light of the passionate statement she made via Instagram. So many people saw that statement as confirmation of their judgment. I saw it as a cry for help from someone who’s so trapped in a situation that they can’t see a way out of it.

I don’t know Janay Rice, but I want her to know that she didn’t deserve what happened. I want her, and women like her who are dealing with this kind of abuse in less high profile situations, to know that this doesn’t have to be their fate. I want the Janay Rices of the world to know that they have the inner strength to leave relationships like this behind and find happiness and freedom independently, elsewhere. There is help and support for you, whenever you are ready for it.

The more I read about and considered this story as it all played out, the more I kept thinking about my best friend from childhood. Her name is Carys Jenkins, and she works as the manager of the independent domestic violence advisory service (IDVA) at RISE. She’s been working closely with women dealing with domestic violence for years and years. When I mentioned how sick seeing the Ray Rice video made me, she simply responded, “I see lots of videos.” That made me realize that this was just one of many incidents that happen every day, everywhere. This just happened to be one that the world’s getting to see, one that’s taken the violence from dark shadows and exposed the horror of domestic violence to the light.

 

Carys introduced me to the “cycle of abuse”, and explained that it might be helpful in understanding why Janay Rice might be behaving in a seemingly illogical way. While onlookers from the outside can’t comprehend why she won’t leave, why she’s blaming the media and why Janay Rice can’t seem to see what so many of us see – that she has to protect herself from this happening again – this cycle is a part of life for so many women. Tension building, violent incident, reconciliation, and then a window of calm before it begins again.

Carys recommended I read Lauren Lavern’s brilliant piece for The Guardian, Time to Make Emotional Abuse a Crime, which broke down the experience of being in an abusive relationship, and what it does to a woman: “What I remember most about emotional abuse is that it’s like being put in a box. How you end up in there is the biggest trick – I never managed to work that one out. Maybe you think it’s a treasure box at first: you’re in there because you’re special. Soon the box starts to shrink. Every time you touch the edges there is an “argument”. So you try to make yourself fit. You curl up, become smaller, quieter, remove the excessive, offensive parts of your personality – you begin to notice lots of these. You eliminate people and interests, change your behavior. But still the box gets smaller. You think it’s your fault. The terrible, unforgivable too-muchness of you is to blame. You don’t realize that the box is shrinking, or who is making it smaller. You don’t yet understand that you will never, ever be tiny enough to fit, or silent enough to avoid a row – because they aren’t rows. If you’re lucky – like my friend and me – you get to leave the situation. I’m not sure whether you ever completely escape the experience.”

I shared Janay Rice’s Instagram response with Carys and she was unsurprised by it. She was able to explain it to me like this. “Sounds like she is going through normal stage 3 reconciliation. She will want everything to go back to ‘normal’ and imagines that it can. The abuser has probably blamed the media and so she attributes blame to them too. It’s normal that he would have minimized the incident to her (it’s not that serious / not that big a deal / blown out of proportion by the media) and she is having to suffer the consequences (his being fired has the most impact on her and their family) of his actions (of course she wants him to get his job back). Minimization (which she is doing) is both an abusive technique that he is using and a coping strategy that she is using to get by.”

One thing I’ve learned through the years is, you don’t know what someone else is truly going through. It’s easy to sit back and make judgments, but we have no idea what it’s like. We wouldn’t truly want to know.

For anyone reading this who needs this kind of help, I hope this post gives you the beginning of what you need. So what are the steps that a woman should do, to escape domestic abuse?

Step oneidentify if you’re in an abusive relationship. If you are, you probably know. If you’re not sure, click here and answer these questions to yourself, honestly. If you answer ‘yes’ to one or more question it is possible that you are in an abusive relationship.

Step two – according to Carys of RISE – “It can help to make a list of reasons to stay and reasons to go. The reasons to stay list will typically be a very long list with real tangible things — for example, the children will live with both parents, they will have continuity etc etc. The reasons to go lists are usually short and the things you want are really not guaranteed – “I might be happier and safer.” Making the list helps you to know what you need to do, and what your next steps should be.

Know what is right for you and that you deserve safety, peace, calm and happiness. You don’t deserve violence, threats, or emotional abuse. Know the truth and basically be real with yourself if you are in an abusive relationship. You know leaving is the right thing to do. Be careful and smart in making your plans to leave. Dr. Phil has a great checklist here, with tips including keep your car fueled up and inform a friend or relative of your plans. Know what you need to take with you and what you can afford to leave behind. Know that if you need to just leave with nothing, that’s what you might have to do.

Step three – Find the number and address of a local battered women’s shelter or safe house. There are people out there who are specially trained to help you and your children leave, survive and thrive, who have action plans in place to help you escape the situation you’re in. The first steps begin in doing the research to find them. In the USA a good place to begin would be the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence – NCADV.org. Click here to check out their programs and resources For anonymous and confidential help 24/7, you can call 1.800.799.SAFE (7233).

 

One of the few good things to come out of this story is the sharing and honesty by people who have experienced domestic violence themselves, or who have grown up feeling its effects in their homes. On Twitter and Facebook, the #WhyIStayed and #WhyILeft hashtags gave voice to so many people who endured and escaped abuse. I had no idea so many personal friends of mine had dealt with abusive relationships at different stages of their lives – some in high school or college, others as adult women with kids. I had no idea so many women I knew had left their abusive relationship behind. Some of their stories were so heartbreaking, but each of them has moved on and they were sharing their stories from a place of strength and survival.

Some high profile men have also come forth to make strong statements against domestic violence, and I’m glad to see that. Terry Crews and sports reporter James Brown really stood up and spoke out, saying what needed to be said.

For anyone who’s stuck in an abusive relationship, please know there’s a way out. Please know that a healthy, loving relationship isn’t one that diminishes you as a person or threatens your health and happiness. You can break the cycle of abuse.

COMMENTS

pets says:
September 15, 2014, 2:33 pm
Thanks for such an informative piece. I hope that victims of abuse (female and male) take your well researched advice.
Georgia Peche says:
September 15, 2014, 4:23 pm
This has been my opinion as well. So many people justify the woman being hit when she was the one who started it. While I don't agree with a woman hitting a man because there are not a lot of gentlemen out there. I have heard some men say that they would hit a woman back if she hit him. I feel these men are punks for even believing that is okay. For parents that raise their sons not to hit a woman I feel they are doing the right thing. Of course, I feel they need to remove themselves from the situation and even call the police if a woman is acting violently, instead of getting themselves into trouble for being abusive to a woman. My main reason for it not being okay for a man to bit a woman back is the fact that men are by nature stronger, even a little skinny guy has more strengths then a woman. Most men are are taller or just have more body mass then a woman will ever have and it can just take one swipe to knock a woman senseless. For women that provoke men, they should seek help as well because she is still a victim once she is hit, but she also has a problem for feeling she can hit a man and maybe even think she can get away wi it because a hit from her may.not be as painful. I thank you Afrobella for being so on point with this article and covering all the bases in such a sad situation as this.
Naturalhairlover says:
September 15, 2014, 5:52 pm
I was sick to my stomach when I saw that video, and even sicker when I saw the jokes on twitter. We really need to stand firm against any form of violence.
Allana Preston says:
September 16, 2014, 7:46 pm
What a powerful article you have written. Totally heart breaking what happened to her. People respond the way they do to these situations, because they just don't know how to respond, so they say things that are hurtful. Thank you for going through the cycle of abuse. It is the same way for verbal abuse as well.
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