Ever seen that Facebook meme that’s been floating around with a picture of Maria Von Trapp from the Sound of Music titled, “This is me not caring who wins football games?” That’s me. But this last Thursday night, I not only turned the game on, but knew the name of the Ravens’ former linebacker. Ray Rice, since the elevator camera clip of him knocking his then-fiancée unconscious came out, he fell from NFL darling to domestic violence poster child.
I’m a mental health counselor so domestic violence is my thing. Not only did I extensively study the psychology of it, I’ve worked with victims of domestic violence.
While the graphic video of Ray Rice knocking his then fiancée unconscious inspired the Ravens to drop his contract and many fans to turn in their jerseys for a pizza, others are defending him. If Rice really was a monster, his wife Janay would have divorced him said one Ravens fan.
Another Ravens fan said that while he was against domestic violence, Rice just had a bad moment. He’s really a good person overall.
The fans are certainly correct that Janay isn’t accusing Rice. Instead, she’s defending him. Back in May, Janay issued an apology for her part in Rice hitting her. And that apology was tweeted by the Ravens.
A man knocks you unconscious and you apologize for your behavior? Why? Some male Ravens fan say because he’s not really an abuser. On cafemom, a popular gossip site for moms, women are saying Janay only stayed because of Rice’s money.
Both responses involve victim-blaming and show a complete lack of understanding of the cycle of abuse. Victims of domestic violence stay with their abuser because of the emotional abuse element involved. Crazy-making is the first essential part of domestic violence. In crazy-making, an abuser consistently lies about the littlest of things in order to “rewrite history” and throw the victim off balance. For example, an abused wife might tell her husband, “I didn’t like how you got so angry at me last night when I burnt the dinner.”
The abusive husband, in an attempt at crazy-making, would answer, “I didn’t get mad at you at all. You were the one that was so flustered by the seared steak that you lashed out at me.”
When abusers constantly rewrite reality, victims begin to question their own perceptions and stop relying on their own judgment. Another thing abusers do to keep victims from leaving is to lower their self-esteem. Abusers will constantly criticize and belittle victims for every mistake. Their goal is to make the victim believe that she could not survive on her own. This is likely an easy goal for Rice to accomplish since he has the advantage of a significant amount of money and even before Janay married him she was dependent on him for child support for their two-year-old daughter.
Speaking of Rice’s daughter, children are one of the most effective methods to keep a victim trapped. Abusers will often threaten to take something the victim cherishes if she ever attempts to leave. Many abusive men tell their partners that if she ever leaves they will take full custody of the child and never let her visit. Since Rice can certainly afford a slew of lawyers, this type of threat would be particularly effective.
The last and most important reason women like Janay don’t leave is because of trauma bonding. Commonly referred to as Stockholm syndrome when the trauma bonding involves a hostage and kidnapper, trauma bonding also describes the intense emotions a victim starts to feel for her abuser. Victims will often express this trauma bonding by saying she loves the abuser. In reality, these feelings of attachment are a reaction to the intensely dangerous and isolating situation she is in.
Two years ago, another NFL player, Jovan Belcher of the Kansas City, Chiefs, made headlines when he killed his girlfriend, baby daughter, and himself in a murder/suicide. Domestic violence is about control. The ultimate act of control is to extinguish a person’s life. Every single day three American women are killed by domestic violence abusers.
The problem, of course, with killing one’s victim is one will go to jail for it. An easy way around this is suicide. And abusers often tend to be given to suicidal tendencies.
Why is this? Well, abusers aren’t happy people. They say virtue is its own reward. Conversely, being a vindictive person doesn’t exactly make you wake up every morning singing “the hills are alive with the sound of music.” Even Ariel Castro, the famous kidnapper of the three Ohio girls who was also charged with domestic violence towards his wife years before that, wrote a suicide note at one point.
Now that Rice has lost his NFL career, I am sure he’s in a bad mood. And that spells trouble for Janay. Has losing his NFL position thrown Rice into a deep depression? Will Rice’s story end like Belcher’s with a body count of three?
I certainly hope not, but psychologically speaking it’s not out of the realm of conceivability. And that’s why domestic violence always needs to be taken seriously.
The NFL players are role models to many teen boys that have no positive male figures in their lives. When I counseled juvenile offenders in the jail system, I met many young men like this. And all of them thought it was acceptable to beat your girlfriend. Hopefully, the NFL’s punishment of Rice will change these young men’s minds.