This week a video showing NFL pro player Ray Rice punching his then girlfriend in an elevator. The scene is continued when he drags her out of the elevator and then seems to attempt to put her back in the elevator. It would appear to be a clear cut case of domestic violence. But Janay Palmer didn’t leave Ray Rice, as a matter of fact, she has since married him.
On the day after the video was released, she let the world know that she was staying in the marriage and standing by her husband by posting a statement on Instagram, that said, in part, "a moment in our lives that we regret every day." From that, and a previous statement where she stated she regretted her role in the incident, Janay clearly blames herself, at least in part, for what happened that night and probably what has happened other times. For women who were in, or are still in, an abusive relationship, that is common. You are often told, "This wouldn’t happen if you didn’t make me angry," or "Why do you make me do these things." After a while, you believe that you are in some way at fault for this abusive behavior.
Most people can’t understand this. Most people can’t and don’t understand why someone would stay in such a relationship. They instead rush to judgment, wondering aloud if she is weak. They are quick to claim, "I would never stay if someone did that to me." But is never quite that simple.
On Twitter, Beverly Golden created the hashtag #WhyIStayed to give women who have stayed a voice:
@jmillermerrell writes "I was told marriage is forever, I didn’t want to be a failure."
@yurhuckleberry writes, “Because I thought if I loved him enough he would stop”"
@weenawoman writes, "Because eventually he would stop and see how much I loved him."
@marstonfeinberg writes, "Because I thought I was strong enough to fix things and make them better if I just tried harder, did more and did it perfectly."
Add to these reasons the fear of leaving, the fear that he will hunt you down and hurt or kill you or your children. And the embarrassment of having to admit that you did stay and put up with abuse. When you leave you think you aren’t just admitting that you were a failure as a wife (or husband because there is spousal abuse the other way as well) but you think you have to admit that you are a failure as a woman for having been in the relationship and put up with it, even for a little while.
The truth is, it takes tremendous strength to leave an abusive relationship. For days, weeks, months or years, you have not just been physically abused, you have been emotionally abused. You have listened to someone, the person you love, put you down, tell you that no one else would want you. You hear, repeatedly, that you can’t make it without him, that you need him. Some abusers have effectively separated you from your family and friends, leaving you without an emotional support system. They may have insisted you quit work and stay at home with the children, leaving you dependent on him financially.
Abuse should never be tolerated. But neither should we abuse those who are still in an abusive relationship. They live with pain and fear every day. They worry about being yelled at, insulted, hit or attacked. They don’t need abuse from others because they have chosen to stay. What they need is understanding. They need hope that things will be better and they can be safe. They need to know their children will be protected. Too often, that doesn’t happen. Each year, about 4,000 women are killed by a partner or former partner and approximately 75 percent are killed when they are attempting to leave or have already left.
If you know someone who is being abused, hold back your judgment. She needs your support and respect. Instead of letting her know she should leave, help her create a plan to leave and stay safe. Provide her with information on local resources, such as women’s shelters and counseling centers. Give her the number to the National Domestic Violence Hotline - 1-800-799-SAFE). Most of all, be her friend.
Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of What Went Right: Reframe Your Thinking for a Happier Now, Idiot’s Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot’s Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love, and Essential Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.