Domestic Violence: Our Definitions And A Victim’s Denial

 

Ray Rice and his wife Janay Palmer.  Picture taken from jacksonville.com

Ray Rice and his wife Janay Palmer

 

In the past week, many of you have likely heard a lot about Ray Rice being released from the Baltimore Ravens, and being indefinitely expelled from the NFL.   For those of you who haven’t heard what happened, a video of Rice beating his wife in an elevator forced the NFL to make the call – one that many people have said should have been made some time ago.  I am not going to argue about the NFL, and its domestic violence problem.  I would like to, however, focus on another related issue that is close to my heart.  While Rice has his fair share of haters now, because he is clearly an abusive ass who in my opinion deserved to have his career shattered, his wife is also catching some serious heat.  I would like to describe what happens in a relationship before physical abuse occurs, and why many abuse victims do not believe they have been abused.

What is the scene that comes to mind when you hear about someone who has been a victim of domestic violence?  If you are like I was four years ago, you probably envision a women in a hospital bed with hear face beaten beyond recognition, while her husband explains to the doctor how his klutz of a wife fell down the stairs.  Or maybe you imagine that someone like Ray Rice started beating on his wife after the first date.  While many women suffer at the hands of physical abusers, there are many more who suffer a  discrete and insidious form of domestic violence – emotional abuse.  Often times, it is the less obvious forms of abuse that lead to situations like the elevator beating that occurred at the hands of Rice.

When I first fled my ex’s house (two weeks after my son Prince was born), I refused to believe I had been a victim of domestic violence.  I was proud, and even after of the terrible things he put me through, I didn’t want to admit that I had stayed in an abusive relationship for as long as I had.  I held onto this belief that I hadn’t really been abused for longer than I should have.  It makes me terribly sad when I see other women who have suffered abuse remain in denial.

Through the Eyes of a Child:

It is often hard to assess your life situation while you are deep in the throws of a terrible situation.  Many abused children do not believe they have been abused.  Even though most schools talk about violence, and try to get children to report abuse, it is often hard for a child to see their situation as abusive if it is they have ever known.  For example, I once asked the child of a known abuser if he had been abused by his father.  He said, “no my father was not abusive – he was just strict.”  Upon further questioning about the term “strict”, the child revealed details about how his father had stripped him naked, and put him out in the cold as a form of punishment.  He also mentioned how his father would “spank” him, often leaving bruises.

While this child was uncomfortable with the idea that he had been a victim of child abuse, he didn’t hesitate to explain how afraid he was of his father.  He had spent his entire life being afraid of his father, so this was his normal.  To him, child abuse was not something normal; therefore, he assumed that what he experienced was just a “strict” parent.

Parallels and Revelations:

As I heard this child speak about his experiences with his father, I felt a flood of emotion.  The thought of him not identifying as a child abuse victim seemed crazy, but in that moment I realized that I needed to come to terms with my own abuse history.  How many times do we hear women who say things like, “he is really a great guy, he just gets upset every so often.”  Just because the dude doesn’t punch you in the face, and cause you to have frequent trips to the ER doesn’t mean the abuse you have endured doesn’t reach the threshold of domestic violence.

I give you the following examples, and I ask you to think about whether you would consider these things “abusive”:

Lechery: Does your husband have a problem keeping his man parts in their appropriate place?  Is he that guy at the party who is hitting on the other women in the room right in front of you?  Does he constantly talk to you about how many women think he is attractive?  Any man (or woman) who cheats on their spouse with a complete lack of regard for their emotions (not to mention their health, i.e. STD risk) is an abuser.

Insulting:  Does your partner belittle you in private, or even in public?  If your spouse purposefully says things with the intention of making you feel bad about yourself, this is abusive.

Rages:  Do you feel like you frequently walk on egg shells for fear of being yelled at?  If someone is screaming at you on a regular basis, and you find yourself scared to communicate with this person for fear of being verbally attacked – this is a problem.

These are just a few examples of domestic violence that don’t result in bruises, and likely are gateways to this sort of behavior in the future.  Loads of women could likely identify with the three examples I have included, and they would also identify with remaining in the relationship after such abuse.  While it might be controversial, I argue that Janay’s staunch support of her husband is just another example of what millions of women do on a regular basis.  She is in the throws of an abusive relationship.  The abuse that she is experiencing is seems so obvious to everyone else, but at home Janay has an abuser in her ear explaining away every bruise and pleading for her public support.

Janay’s statement over social media should look alarmingly familiar to those who have experienced domestic violence:

janayinstigram

As I read her post, I could almost imagine Ray standing over her shoulder writing it.

 

It is really easy to feel strong when you don’t have to face that person on a daily basis.  Many people cannot imagine what it is like to be afraid every single day, and wonder how you will get out of the situation.  It is not always easy to walk out that door.

Victim Doesn’t Need to Define You:

One of the reasons I had such a hard admitting to myself that I had experienced an abusive relationship was the fear I had that this would somehow define me.  People often ask me how I have been able to survive the Lifetime-esque life that I have had.  The best advice I can give on that front is that you can choose to not let these things define who you are.  Just because you have been abused, does not mean that you need to remain a victim.  In order to take back your identity, it is important to follow the following steps:

.  Face the reality by admitting to yourself that you are being abused.

.  Get yourself out of the abusive situation

.  Understand how you got there to begin with, so not to repeat the mistake.

So when you read the media reports about this incident, and the others that will likely follow, imagine yourself in this woman’s shoes.  Even if you don’t think it could happen to you, I am living proof that it can.