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Domestic violence hotline CEO: Ray Rice is an opportunity to talk about partner abuse

"We would never take someone who was mugged and then make them sit next to their assailant during a press conference," said President and CEO of the National Domestic Violence Hotline Katie Ray-Jones. "We would never do that."

By Aileen Graef
The national coverage of Ray Rice hitting his wife is an opportunity to start a nationwide conversation about domestic violence, says one expert. UPI/Kevin Dietsch/files | <a href="/News_Photos/lp/e2972f829db70fea1cd87c141ea8fb9d/" target="_blank">License Photo</a>
The national coverage of Ray Rice hitting his wife is an opportunity to start a nationwide conversation about domestic violence, says one expert. UPI/Kevin Dietsch/files | License Photo

WASHINGTON, Sept. 9 (UPI) -- The video of former Baltimore Raven Ray Rice striking his wife Janay in an elevator has sparked a national conversation about domestic violence, something domestic violence awareness advocates see as an opportunity.

Contrary to the media and public outrage, Janay has adamantly defended her husband. She sat by his side during a press conference after the initial video of him dragging her out of the elevator first brought the incident to light. After a second video showing Rice punching his wife in the elevator and knocking her unconscious surfaced, she posted a statement on social media defending him once again.

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"No one knows the pain that media & unwanted opinions from the public has caused my family. To make us relive a moment in our lives that we regret everyday is a horrible thing," she wrote in an Instagram post Tuesday. "Just know we will continue to grow & show the world what real love is!"

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Rice spoke out in a statement to ESPN on Tuesday after the events, praising his wife's strength and saying he has to focus on being there for her.

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"I have to be strong for my wife," he told the sports network. "She is so strong. We are in good spirits. We have a lot of people praying for us and we'll continue to support each other. I have to be there for [Janay] and my family right now and work through this."

Ray's lack of apology and Janay's defense of her husband are common situations, says Katie Ray-Jones, president and CEO of the National Domestic Violence Hotline. Ray-Jones says this is a time to start a national conversation about a prevalent problem.

"It's not surprising she defended him," Ray-Jones told UPI. "This is common among women who are victims of domestic violence. They are made to feel worthless and they are to blame. To their family and friends, their abuser is seen as a great person so they think that it must be their fault their abuser is only violent with them. As we saw in the #WhyIStayed and #WhyILeft conversation on social media today, there are many women who share the same problems of being unable to leave their lives and partners."

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The hashtags #WhyIStayed and #WhyILeft caught fire on Twitter and other social media after the incident. Women subjected to domestic violence told stories of why they stayed with or left their abusive partners.

Ray-Jones said there are other factors to consider in the Rice case. It wasn't just a domestic violence issue between two people, but a PR machine, an NFL team and the NFL itself staging the press on the story, as seen in the constructed narrative of the press conference where Janay sat by her husband.

"We would never take someone who was mugged and then make them sit next to their assailant during a press conference," said Ray-Jones. "We would never do that."

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She said the NFL should have taken the first video of Rice dragging Janay unconscious out of the elevator without "compassion, empathy or concern" as the opportunity to hand down a severe punishment. Instead they presented a story where Janay allegedly spat on him, provoking the attack, and that's "where the victim-blaming comes in."

The grand scale effect of a celebrity getting attention in a domestic violence situation is not necessarily a bad one.

Ray-Jones said it normalizes the ideas that domestic violence can affect anyone and that abused women are not alone. It helps individual victims understand that domestic violence is not exclusive to them; celebrities such as Rihanna or Janay Rice who are victimized face the same reactions and challenges as anyone else. Ray-Jones says her organization has already seen the effect.

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"The hotline has already had calls from women who saw the video and said, 'I don't want to be like her.'"

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