Ray Rice saga brings home message against domestic violence
THE sordid Ray Rice scandal has opened a much-needed dialogue about domestic violence.
In February, Rice and Janay Palmer, then his fiancee and now his wife, had an altercation at an Atlantic City casino that left Ms Palmer unconscious. A tape surfaced of Rice dragging her limp body from the lift, hovering over her. At no point does he appear to attend to her, appear shocked at what he has done to her or appear to have much concern for her at all.
The next month, a grand jury indicted Rice on a charge of third-degree aggravated assault.
The Baltimore Ravens' coach, John Harbaugh, stood by Rice, saying: "He's a person of character... He makes a mistake. There's no justifying what happened. When you drink too much in public, those kind of things happen."
Whatever one may think of Rice's character, "those kind of things" don't just "happen". That is too casual a dismissal of a very serious issue.
In May, Rice was accepted into a pre-trial diversion programme that allowed him to avoid prosecution. A couple of days later, Rice held a news conference with his wife by his side.
He apologised to his coaches, his fans and people affected by the situation. He did not, however, publicly apologise to his wife, although he thanked her for loving him.
His wife said at the news conference: "I do deeply regret the role I played in the incident that night." It was a line that caused many to cringe. It is hard to feel anything but sadness for her.
The National Football League (NFL) suspended Rice for a measly two games. The nation was outraged, but the league defended its decision.
But then another tape was made public showing Rice and Ms Palmer in the lift, with him punching her in the face and knocking her unconscious.
Now, the NFL and the Ravens were embarrassed, and their callous lack of concern for the abuse of an intimate partner was laid bare. The Ravens released Rice, and the NFL suspended him indefinitely.
There are many issues here, like why did it take the second tape for the NFL to act more forcefully in the case.
But, in a way, those are secondary to the issue of the abuse itself and why people stay in relationships with abusers.
It is a couple's decision - individually and jointly - whether a union is salvageable and worth the effort to save it.
But too often, victims of abuse feel that they have no choice. They can end up staying with an abuser for myriad complex reasons, many of which are regrettable.
Often, they just feel trapped. Staying does not excuse the abuse itself and it can actually embolden the abuser.
We must treat intimate partner violence for what it is: a societal scourge that must be constantly called out and constantly condemned.
According to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, "more than one-third of women in the United States (35.6 per cent, or approximately 42.4 million) have experienced rape, physical violence and/or stalking by an intimate partner at some point in their lifetime", and nearly one in three women have experienced physical violence by an intimate partner.
To put some of this in percentage terms, 30.3 per cent of women in the US have been "slapped, pushed or shoved by an intimate partner" in their lifetime.
This is, of course, not just a US issue.
As the United Nations makes clear, "violence against women is a universal phenomenon".
According to the UN, "up to seven in 10 women around the world experience physical and/or sexual violence at some point in their lifetime", and "603 million women live in countries where domestic violence is not yet considered a crime".
If there is anything to be optimistic about, it is this: According to a Justice Department report issued in April, "the rate of domestic violence declined 63 per cent, from 13.5 victimisations per 1,000 persons aged 12 or older in 1994 to 5.0 per 1,000 in 2012".
We can push these numbers even lower, but first we need people like Rice, the Ravens and those in the NFL to behave more honourably than they have in this case.