My response was simply to the list of grievances Janay Rice had regarding media scrutiny and her husband's sudden and now possibly permanent suspension from the NFL , and how it had hurt both of them, and how she wished people would just leave them alone because it was an embarrassing moment, and the constant playing and replaying of that scene in the elevator where he punches her in the face and she goes down like... well, like a woman whose football player husband just punched her in the face... only serves to force her to relive the moment.
I've gotten a lot of response to my letter. Most of it has been positive and in agreement with my points. There were a few nitpicks - such as my decision at the last minute to add "And All Women Who Stay" to the title of the piece. In retrospect, I probably should have written, "All Women Who Choose to Stay", since I meant to address the letter to women who voluntarily choose to stay, while too many women who stay in abusive relationships are not staying out of choice, but rather because they have no choice.
A couple of the critiques, mostly on the post on the blog and on Liberals Unite (which picked up and printed the letter later in the day) mentioned that we should "just leave her alone" or we should "just pray for her and give her privacy". While I understand people's sentiments here, there's a specific reason I think such advice is utterly wrong-headed and potentially fatal. But let's come back to that in a moment.
Two people (whom I imagine were writing in tandem, since they're responses were worded nearly identically) mentioned that I was condescending. In my letter, I used expressions like "darling girl" and "dear one", and they felt this was my attempt to belittle Ms. Rice. In fact, I use these expressions often, especially on the occasion when I am trying to have a difficult conversation in the gentlest way possible.
There is no condescension meant, nor did most people who read the letter take it that way. Oddly, both responders referred mostly to things I'd written in the first two paragraphs, which leads me to believe that neither of them (if they were separate people at all) read through the entire letter, and also leads me to believe that they were trolling the internet, Googling "Ray Rice", hunting for blog posts to respond to on behalf of the Rices or the Ravens or whosoever they're hoping silence will benefit. Ordinarily, I ignore trolls (which is why I deleted their posts - trolls get no free airspace on The Chron).
However, while reading through a lot of conversation that ensued in the comments sections of my original post - the comments having veered a bit off the topic, as comments will do from time to time -- I noticed that "condescension" was a recurrent theme. Having just been accused of the same thing, it caught my eye, and I studied each post which someone had accused of being condescending or "blaming the victim", to see if those posters and I were missing something. It's always easier to spot in someone else's writing than your own, after all.
What I found was that comments that were labeled "condescending" did not condescend at all. They were, to be sure, straightforward in their rebuke of Ray Rice's actions, of the NFL's responses and in their confusion at Ms. Rice's ongoing alliance with a man who punched her in the face not two months before their wedding. This didn't strike me as condescension. It still doesn't. It strike me as truth.
In more than one instance, including by one of the trolls on the Chron, the analogy of rape was brought up. To wit: "If she were raped, would you blame her because of what she was wearing?" My reply to which is, no. Absolutely not. Of course not.
However, the rape analogy is a false one.
A rape survivor only has to comply with her attacker's wishes as long as it takes her to get out of the violent act alive. Anything she has to do to this end is above reproach. Coming out of a rape alive is the act of a hero, and you will never hear me criticize a woman for what she had to do to accomplish it.
Likewise, I have never, nor will I ever, blame Janay Rice for what went on in the elevator. I have been very vocal about the fact that Atlantic City police added insult to her injury by watching the elevator tape and concluding that she was a criminal, too, then promptly arresting her. (This will be covered in another blog post very soon, by the way).
Now, ask me what I'd do if our hypothetical rape victim married her attacker two months after the attack, moved him into her house, and gave him free access to herself and her child, in spite of the fact that incontrovertible evidence of the rape not only existed, but has been made public for all to see.
I promise you, I'd have a thing or two (or fifteen, or seventy-nine) to say about it, and many of those things might well sound condescending. Because if I said them to our hypothetical rape survivor, I would be attempting to have a very difficult conversation as gently as I could with a woman who obviously wasn't thinking that straight. Aligning yourself with someone who has hurt you - whether he's forced you to engage in non-consensual sex, or smashed you in the face with his fist - is not natural. Truly not. Ever. Trust me on this. Aligning yourself with your abuser so completely that you find yourself apologizing for being abused is even more nutty. Cult members do this. If you're going to use an analogy about the victims of domestic violence aligning themselves with their abusers, then you can't use the rape analogy, because victims of rape do not ordinarily stick up for their rapists. That is not healthy.
Descending into an abusive domestic relationship is much more like joining a cult. You become conditioned by the cult leader to believe that, though he hurts you, though he abuses you, he only has your best interests at heart, and if there is any failing in the relationship, then it's yours, sweetheart. If you were better, if you could just quiet his demons, you could keep it from happening. It is brainwashing, clever and brutal, designed to render the abused so mixed up that she doesn't know what is truth and what is a lie anymore.
This brings us to the part where we're supposed to "leave her alone" and "pray for her and give her privacy". I'm sorry, citizens, but this is simply not an option. Domestic assault is a mould, thriving in the dark corners and behind closed doors and windows. The only way to destroy it is to throw open the sash, let the sun in, and keep going at it until it dies out. I realize that all the things that Ray Rice suffers affect Janay Palmer Rice as well. But that's only because, two months after he smacked her a good one in that elevator, she married the guy. For better or for worse. For richer, for poorer.
No, sir. I will run the risk of sounding "condescending" to Janay Rice now, while she's alive, than risk keeping politely quiet, and watching another woman die the way Cherica Adams (killed by hit men hired by her boyfriend, Carolina wide receiver Rae Carruth) or Kasandra Perkins (killed in front of several coaches for the Kansas City Chiefs by her boyfriend, linebacker Jovan Belcher, who then shot himself as police arrived). I simply cannot bear it. I cannot keep silent when the stakes are so high.
A woman who is fighting for her life during a rape must acquiesce to her attacker's demands long enough to survive her attack. How long would you have a battered woman acquiesce to her attacker's demands when her attacker is her husband?
Til death them do part?