A Football Player Hit His Wife On Video. America Saw It. And Now America's Telling Her What To Do.
There is certainly a lot of speculation going on about Janay Rice. She's spoken her piece through ESPN, and of course I have formed my own sense of what is going on with her situation. But I'm not here to tell you my opinion on that. Because she spoke her piece. Who am I to tell her (or the rest of you) she's wrong? Here's what I am going to tell you.
I'm a domestic violence survivor.
I see a lot of well-meaning pundits, even some I fiercely admire, booking shows and writing think-pieces on what the underlying messages and themes are in the communique Janay Rice distributed. Most of them are concerned people saying she's in denial.
I'm here to implore you all to STOP saying Janay Rice is in denial.
On top of the trauma of the originating attack and all of the confusing, heart-rending choices that come after an attack, we are stealing her narrative. We are taking a thing she is hoping to regain control of right now — the public's perception and her own definition of who she is — and we are co-opting it for our own points. We are further victimizing the (at-least-at-one-time) victim. We justify it because it seems like such a great opportunity to raise awareness for other survivors. I agree with that tactic when it comes to media-shaming abusers.
It absolutely turns my guts when I see us dissecting the survivors' hard-won attempts to regain control of their own lives and the public's perception.
I even hesitate to write this piece because in imploring you to stop, I'm becoming a part of it.
So let me not focus on her story. Let me focus on what I know myself.
When I was struggling to leave my abuser, I was facing two parallel struggles. Depending on what kind of day it was, I was looking at one or the other:
The Illusion That What I Was Doing Was Being Strong For My Family's Sake
- On the good days, I could tell myself the struggle was keeping our relationship together — being there and being unwavering in my commitment to a troubled man, helping him get through it. I could see the desired outcome in my head: us, years later, happy and healthy and triumphant after all the challenges. I didn't see myself as abused or weak or in denial. I saw myself as a strong woman standing steadfastly by a man in turmoil who I loved. This is the shared struggle, one an abuser helps maintain by telling the victim it's the thing they're both working toward.
The Realization That The Illusion Was An Illusion And I Needed To Save Myself And Kids
- On the bad days, that illusion would shimmer, and I could see a glimpse through the break in it that there was a much more real struggle behind it — a struggle that was mine alone, not shared with my abuser. It was the struggle for the truth about myself, about my worth, the struggle to regain my hold on objective reality outside our shared struggle.
Sometimes I would see that and it would be clear for a day, maybe two. My friends could reach me then — they could see I had a chance to get out.
And just like that, the illusion (that my commitment to a troubled man could have a happy ending) would be back. I craved the illusion, and my abuser knew it. After a couple of days of entertaining what realities and hardships lay beyond the illusion, I *wanted* him to bullshit me. I wanted to bullshit myself.
My friends, however, did something very different. What they did for me during that time was crucial. My best friend was actually a domestic abuse counselor. There was so much she could have barraged and cornered me with. She KNEW so much about abusers' patterns that she could have pinned me with the truth. She didn't. She probably knew that if she did, it would just strengthen my illusion that it was my abuser and me against the world, and make me protective of him. My friends did the very best thing they could. They didn't beg me to see how wrong I was to revert to the illusion. They just loved me. They just supported me. And they waited until my next glimpse of reality. When it came, they listened, helped me, and took me seriously even though I'd been down this road before. They didn't say, “No, we've already gone through this with you, and you're just going to go back to him in a day or two." They came to get me and help me every time I tried to leave, without judgment, without hesitation, until I was finally strong enough to do it for good.
Whatever you think about Janay Rice, you might very well be right. But you can't do anything for her, so let her have her process in peace.
Let her own her damn story.
There will be one of two outcomes. She will leave her abuser or she won't. And you don't have any say in that, no matter how much you think you know.
"But Angie," you may be saying, "I care very much and it pains me to see this happening and not be able to do anything about it."
If this case being in the media woke you up to domestic violence in a way that you hadn't been attuned to before and you feel strongly about it, I guarantee there are people within a stone's throw whose lives you CAN affect. There are things you can do:
- Take a training course and volunteer for a hotline.
- Become a volunteer at a shelter.
- Be better equipped from what you've learned so you can be the very best ally possible in case you have a friend or family member who someday needs your help.
But there is nothing useful in stealing Janay Rice's narrative from her on top of everything else she's dealing with.
“Our duty is to be useful, not according to our desires, but according to our powers." — Henri F. Amiel
Here is ESPN reporter Jamelle Hill's discussion of her interview with Janay Rice:
To watch the original ESPN coverage and read about Janay's experience in her words, you can go over to ESPN.