By now you may be familiar with the story: On February 15, former Baltimore Raven Ray Rice, 27, and then-fiancé Janay Rice, 26, were arrested in Atlantic City for what Ray's attorney called a "minor physical altercation." Just four days later, disturbing footage emerged of Ray dragging Janay, unconscious, from an elevator at an Atlantic City hotel. The resulting outcry led to a two-game suspension from the National Football League. A New Jersey grand jury indicted Ray in March on third-degree aggravated assault, which is a felony in the state. Though the crime typically merits up to five years in prison, Rice pled no contest and was sentenced to a pre-intervention program for first-time offenders. That meant no jail time and mandated counseling.
The story might have ended there, but this past Monday, new interior video showing the events leading to the previous video was leaked to TMZ. It shows Ray punching Janay so hard in the face that she fell over into a hand rail and was knocked out on the floor. The public outcry was loud and clear, and the Ravens reacted by terminating Ray's contract. The NFL also suspended him from the league indefinitely. On Tuesday, Ray lost his Nike contract. Though he can apply for reinstatement into the league after one year, it seems his football career is likely over.
Since the additional footage started making headlines, women have been sharing their personal experiences with domestic violence on Twitter using the hashtags #WhyIStayed and #WhyILeft. The campaign began when Beverly Gooden, a human resources manager from Charlotte, NC, included the tag in a tweet, along with an article about domestic violence.
Like with other campaigns where women, the LGBTQ community, and people of color have responded to current events by sharing their experiences on social media, the result is powerful, often upsetting access to the daily reality of many voices who are excluded from mainstream news and culture.
It's easy for someone on the outside to see domestic violence in black-and-white terms. If your partner hits you, you leave them immediately, right? The #WhyIStayed/#WhyILeft tweets shed light on how emotionally complicated, scary, and even dangerous it can be for someone to leave a domestically violent relationship.
"I woke up this morning feeling like I had a horrible nightmare, feeling like I'm mourning the death of my closest friend. 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 [opinions] from the public has caused my family. 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 of for all his life just to gain ratings is 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!"
Liz Roberts, chief program officer for Safe Horizon, says people are often quick to judge survivors of domestic violence who choose to stay in their situation.
"Those outside the relationship often don’t understand the emotional abuse, financial control, or other forms of manipulation that go along with domestic violence. Survivors are frequently made to feel that they somehow caused the abuse or that they deserve it," she told us in an interview.
"Abusers also sometimes control finances, leaving the survivor without the financial means necessary to leave. Many survivors and their children end up on the street," Roberts said, noting domestic violence is actually the third leading cause of homelessness among families. Roberts also points out that it can be potentially harmful to leave a home of domestic violence.
"The days and weeks immediately before and after leaving are the single most dangerous time for a survivor. Survivors may also genuinely love and care for their abuser and sincerely believe that they can make things better," she said.
Tuesday marked the 20th anniversary of the Violence Against Women Act, which created a network of services for those experiencing domestic violence, including shelters, crisis centers, and a national hotline. The Rice incident, though, reminds us that violence against women is an abstract threat — an issue that's simultaneously public and intimate.
"We need to remember that domestic violence is tragically common," says Roberts. "Not every incident is captured on video, but a staggering one in four women will experience domestic violence during her lifetime."
If you’re experiencing domestic violence and need help, you can call a 24/7 hotline. In New York, call 1-800-621-HOPE (4673) — outside NY, call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).