Remember the victim [Editorial]

Our view: Janay Rice likely opened herself up for more harsh judgment when she posted her feelings on the Internet; what she deserves is compassion

September 09, 2014

Janay Rice's public message today about the Ravens' decision to cut her husband, running back Ray Rice, and the NFL's decision to ban him for life after a video was published showing him knocking her unconscious is likely to have precisely the opposite of the effect she desired, drawing more attention to what is for her, a painful family matter. In a post on her Instagram account, Ms. Rice condemned the media and the public for causing her family anguish and forcing them to relive "a moment we regret every day." She added: "If your intentions were to hurt us, embarrass us, make us feel alone, take all happiness away, you've succeeded on so many levels."

Unfortunately, the honest outpouring is likely to open her to more undeserved scrutiny. What it should do, though, is remind us that behind all the controversy about the NFL's policies on domestic abuse, the Ravens' business decisions, New Jersey law enforcement and the value of athletes as role models, this is a story about a couple experiencing a problem that is repeated in other relationships with sickening frequency and far less attention. For Ms. Rice, the situation and its complications — shame, embarrassment, uncertainty about the future — are magnified by her husband's celebrity, but they are fundamentally similar to those that victims of domestic violence experience every day, and they are instructive about the difficulties countless women (and some men) face as they try to cope with abuse.

Both Rices have described the February incident, in which Mr. Rice punched his then fiancée so hard during an argument that she collapsed to the floor of an elevator they were riding, as an aberration. We hope and pray that is the case. The pair have entered counseling, Mr. Rice has publicly expressed contrition, and he has agreed that he deserved punishment for his actions.

We do not know what the future holds for the Rices, but domestic violence is more typically a cyclical phenomenon. As such, many have expressed bewilderment that Ms. Rice did not immediately leave Mr. Rice after he punched her in February, and the cynical have suggested that she was a "gold-digger" who was after him for his wealth. The Rices have known each other since high school, and both insist that they love each other very deeply — in her post, Ms. Rice promised to "show the world what real love is!" Moreover, they have a child together. It's easy from the outside to say that Ms. Rice — or any other victim of domestic violence — should simply walk away after the first incident, but such bonds are not so easily broken. That is part of the reason why some victims put up with a level of abuse the rest of us can never imagine. We hope that Mr. Rice proves to be the exception to the rule, someone who reacted violently once and will never again; counseling should give him tools to turn to when angry or provoked, rather than physical violence.

Ms. Rice deserves the community's sympathy and support as she seeks to move on from this incident in the best way she can, but instead she has found herself the object of scrutiny and even scorn. She has been criticized for marrying Mr. Rice after he was charged criminally, for standing by him publicly and for expressing regret for her "role" in the incident. Now she finds her husband unemployed and with no apparent prospects for future employment, thanks to the NFL's ex-post-facto seriousness about domestic violence. Though the scale is different, her economic dependency on her abuser is not at all dissimilar to that of many other victims.

Janay Rice's story is, sadly, serving to remind us why so many women fail to report domestic violence in the first place. Ms. Rice was victimized when her then-fiancé punched her. She was victimized when she became the object of a public dissection. And she was victimized indirectly as a result of the punishment her now-husband has received. The least we could do is offer her some compassion.

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