On Ray Rice and why it doesn’t matter if she stayed

As many of you are already aware, a new video of Baltimore Ravens running back, Ray Rice, surfaced on Monday that showed him punching his then-fiancée, Janay Palmer, in the head. In May, a video of Rice dragging her, unconscious, out of the elevator he apparently punched her in, was circulated widely. Back then the Ravens chose to only suspend him for two games and had Palmer and Rice show up at a press conference in order to present an image to the public of everything being a-ok. The Ravens Tweeted:

“Janay Rice says she deeply regrets the role that she played the night of the incident.”

I imagine everyone was very comforted to know that Rice’s now-wife apologized for her own part in being punched in the head. (The Tweet was recently deleted)

So first of all, it’s not as if it weren’t obvious, when we all saw the video of Rice dragging his unconscious fiancée out of an elevator in Atlantic City, that something sketchy was going on. Beyond that, even if the Ravens want to pretend the earlier video wasn’t telling enough, it sounds like, in all likelihood, the NFL and some Ravens officials had already seen the other video which showed Rice punching Palmer.

Rice has now been let go from the Ravens, but basically the NFL and the team didn’t really care about the abuse until they were forced to, because the video went public and could no longer be denied.

But now, even with the damning video, the defenses and excuses continue.

“She provoked him” is always a classic. I got that one too. “But you guys were fighting, weren’t you?” I was asked, oh-so-innocently. Another favorite seems to be “She married him, though!” which translates to “She chose this” (i.e. she was complicit in or consented to her own abuse). The argument that Palmer married Rice for the money, despite his abuse, is also being tossed around enthusiastically — I mean, she must be very greedy to have chosen abuse in exchange for financial security (which is to say: she is a bad person and deserves what she gets).

Today, Palmer has been defending Rice on Instagram:

“I woke up this morning feeling like I had a horrible nightmare, feeling like I’m mourning the death of my closest friend,” she wrote.

“But to have to accept the fact that it’s reality is a nightmare in itself. No one knows the pain that the media & unwanted options from the public has caused my family. To make us relive a moment in our lives that we regret everyday is a horrible thing. To take something away from the man I love that he has worked his [butt] off for all his life just to gain ratings is a horrific. THIS IS OUR LIFE! What don’t you all get. 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 & show the world what real love is! Ravensnation we love you!”

Surely she’s “asking for it” now, they will say.

But here’s the thing. Palmer is free to make whatever choices she likes and if she chooses to stay with, marry, or defend her abusive husband, that still doesn’t mean she deserves abuse. It still doesn’t make what he did ok. And she still deserves not to be judged and blamed for standing by this man.

Women marry their abusers, like, all the time. Women go back to their abusers. Women defend and protect their abusers. Women often love their abusers.

You can bet Palmer feels empathy and sympathy for Rice. She probably does love him. She more-than-likely hopes and believes he will change. He has probably promised to change many times. This is old hat. Women who have been in abusive relationships know exactly how it goes and how it feels. It’s not easy to believe that someone who claims to love you and who you feel love towards would hurt you. Of course we hope they will stop. Of course we want them to change and want to believe they will. Abusive men aren’t all abusive 24 hours a day. We hang on to the good moments — that’s why we stay.

Abuse is a mindfuck. We are made to feel dependent on our abusers. We feel embarrassed and ashamed at what we’ve been put through, what we’ve “put up with,” at the verbal and emotional abuse we’ve been subjected to. At the reality of our lives and the crazy, humiliating, inexplicable behaviour we’ve witnessed. How can you tell someone those things? Surely no one will understand… Our self-esteem deteriorates. We become isolated from our support systems. We feel we can’t ask for help because we’ve left and gone back so many times over and we know our friends and family are sick of it. We feel judged and we feel stupid and we feel weak. We are strong women and we know better. We feel like we can take it. We can cope. We compartmentalize — shutting the bad stuff out. We tell ourselves it isn’t so bad. We really, really want it to get better. He says he’ll go to counseling. He says he’ll stop drinking. He says if only we’d change our tone of voice or our body language or be gentler or kinder or more thoughtful… If only. We stop trusting ourselves. Is it our fault? Is this normal? Maybe I did provoke him…

Abuse isn’t as simple as you want it to be. It isn’t clear cut. It isn’t easy to leave. It isn’t easy to give up on someone we care about and have invested time and energy and emotion into. But no matter what Palmer does, no matter what she feels or says, it doesn’t make his actions ok. And it doesn’t mean she deserved it.

Meghan Murphy

Founder & Editor

Meghan Murphy is a freelance writer and journalist from Vancouver, BC. She has been podcasting and writing about feminism since 2010 and has published work in numerous national and international publications, including The Spectator, UnHerd, Quillette, the CBC, New Statesman, Vice, Al Jazeera, The Globe and Mail, and more. Meghan completed a Masters degree in the department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University in 2012 and is now exiled in Mexico with her very photogenic dog.