Domestic violence survivors stay for a million reasons. Janay Rice's is her own
Asking a battered woman why she didn’t leave is just another way to pass judgment on her and excuse her abuser.
Why did she stay? How could she possibly marry him?
They are questions that victims of abuse are – wrongly – expected to answer every day. They are the questions that Janay Rice (née Palmer) is being asked to answer, again, now that video has surfaced of Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice delivering a blow to her head in a casino elevator in February that knocked her into a handrail and caused her to lose consciousness.
When a less explicit video of the altercation's aftermath leaked earlier this year, in which Rice was seen dragging his then-fiancée Palmer unconscious out of the elevator, a predictable narrative emerged: one that protects abusers at all costs: one that looks the other way; and one that blames the victim even when the awful truth is staring us in the face. Because apparently an unconscious, beaten woman was not proof enough of abuse. Because it couldn’t have been that bad if she stayed.
So it was without great surprise this week that we saw Palmer being asked to explain herself and her actions.
But this time, survivors across the internet answered. Author Beverly Gooden, herself a survivor of domestic violence, started tweeting under the hashtag #WhyIStayed, writing, “I tried to leave the house once after an abusive episode, and he blocked me”, and “I stayed because my pastor told me that God hates divorce.” Gooden says she started the hashtag to “find strength in community.”
And the community responded – loudly. Women using the hashtag told stories about feeling too worthless to leave, about having no money to get on a bus, about being in love, about simply not knowing why they stayed at all.
I have my story, too. During my first semester of college, I dated a young man who tried to control whom I talked to and what friends I could have. When he got drunk – which was often – he called me “a stupid whore”, he got close and implicitly threatened me with physical violence, and he pushed me. Afterwards, he would cry in my arms, tell me that he was broken, and beg me to help him. I didn’t stay, not forever – not even until his parents pulled him out of school over failing grades – but I did stay for a while, because I loved him, because I wanted it to work out, because his emotional vulnerability made me feel more responsible for his emotional well-being than my own.
Mine is not an unusual story. Ours are not isolated incidents.
Melissa A Fabello, an editor of Everyday Feminism and a community educator at a Philadelphia domestic violence agency, says that sometimes people stay in abusive relationships because of concrete reasons like children or money, but “sometimes they’re more abstract, including strong emotions like love, hope, guilt, and fear.”
On Tuesday morning, Jany Rice released a statement on Instagram criticizing the media and public:
"To make us relive a moment in our lives that we regret every day is a horrible thing. To take something away from the man I love that he has worked his ass [off] for all his life just to gain ratings is horrific."
Fabello also points out that most women who are killed by their partners are in the process of leaving or have already left. “Sometimes staying in an abusive relationship is actually the safest option, and we need to do better by survivors by understanding that no one knows their abuser better,” she tells me.
I want Ray Rice to be punished for what he did, but what I want more is for Janay Rice to be heard – even if you don’t agree with what she’s saying or that she’s choosing to stay. No one knows her life better than she does, and if this outpouring of stories should teach us anything it’s that the best thing we can do for survivors is listen to them. They will tell us what they need.
Taken from the Jessica Valenti Column - The Guardian online