The Ray Rice “story” and (thanks in part to the NFL’s clumsy, clueless handling of its role) the media’scontinued coverage of it is strange in a “wow” kind of way: people are talking about a sometimes taboo subject that I raise whenever I can.
Sometimes talk is only gossip, or herd mentality, or meaningless Facebook likes and shares and Twitter hashtag frenzy.
But talk where there used to be silence can lead to real change: according to Mary Riedel, President and CEO of Women in Distress, “In the week following the release of the video showing Ray Rice striking his then-fiancee Janay Palmer, calls to the Women in Distress 24-hour crisis line increased by 60%.” 60%!
Maybe some of the #whyIstayed reasons are shifted by the national conversation. Maybe women are calling crisis lines because they are reassured that the abuse they’re experiencing is not okay. Or that they will be believed. Maybe their friends and family are more supportive after seeing the video.
Let’s keep talking about this long after the gossip machine moves on. October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. We have a perfect opportunity for more awareness, more help, and less abuse.
I’m not an NFL wife, but from 1999-2007, I was abused by my husband, a charismatic man with a lot of friends who bordered on fans. Today is the seventh anniversary of my divorce.
I totally understand that the last thing you want right now is to be the centerpiece of a national conversation about domestic violence. The first thing you want, if you’re like me, and maybe you still believe that you can have it, is a happy marriage that matches the image you’ve worked so hard to portray, the image in your most deeply heartfelt hopes and dreams for yourself, your husband, your child, and your life.
I don’t know all the reasons you’ve stayed, but I stayed because I wanted that happy marriage, too. Here are some of the other reasons #why I stayed:
I believed him when he told me I was responsible for the way he treated me. If only I would be quiet ….
I believed him when he told me I wasn’t sexy, had no real friends, and was at my core a worthless person.
I kept what was happening so secret, so well, that I couldn’t imagine telling the truth.
I didn’t think anyone would believe that my funny, generous, church-going husband was abusive.
I loved him.
I thought I could help him be a better man.
I was too proud to admit that I couldn’t stop him from abusing me.
I didn’t want to get divorced.
I was listening to my biological clock and wanted to have a baby.
I didn’t want to leave my dogs with him.
I really, truly believed, right up until I didn’t believe anymore, that he was telling me the truth when he promised to change.
I’m sorry, Janay Palmer Rice, that the elevator tape wound up on TMZ. I’m sorry that you’re going through this. I hope you’re safe. I hope that when you’re ready, and only you can say when, you’ll write a list of #why I left.
On Valentine’s Day, I walked in the College Brides Walk to raise awareness about domestic and dating violence and to commemorate the life and death of Gladys Ricart, who was murdered on her wedding day by an ex-boyfriend.
That’s me dressed in white in the middle of the picture (Mr. Z said he didn’t know I owned any white clothes, but that’s another story). For more pictures (and this one), check out this Miami Herald gallery.
It’s the fourth annual event, and I was happy to attend for the first time. Going to events like this is energizing and affirming–so many other people focusing on an issue that is dear to me.
But by the sixth mile of carrying a sign with a photo of Kalyn Denise O’Barr, 19, who died on January 5, 2010, I was emotional. According to my sign, “She was attacked while sleeping and strangled with an electrical cord. Her husband was sentenced to 15 years to life in prison for her murder.”
I walked (and I write and I speak) for Kalyn and way too many victims of domestic violence who cannot.
I know two women who left their abusive husbands over this New Years mid-week holiday. As soon as the new apartments were ready, while the men were at work, with careful planning and the help of friends and family, they shed possessions and made a break for it.
The moment of leaving an abusive relationship is the most dangerous one possible for the victim; it is the instant when the batterer (statistically most often a man) loses what he has sought above all else, what he has sought to obtain via physical, emotional, or financial abuse: control over the victim. It is the moment when he is most likely to be most violent as he attempts to regain what he is losing.
To those courageous survivors who left today, may you be safe. May you inhale the fresh paint smell of your new apartment and know that your life will never be the same, that you’ve done the hardest thing already, that each day will get a little easier.
And to the rest of us who are already safe in our homes tonight, may we remember those who left and maybe even our own leaving, and may we take whatever risks we need to take now in order to have the lives we’re meant to have.
The law was first passed in 1994, and reauthorized without incident in 2000 and 2005. It worked. More women had access to more protection from violence and abuse.
When it was time to reauthorize VAWA in 2011, additional provisions were added to offer protection to groups who need it–LGBT people, Native Americans, and immigrants. All of these groups experience intimate traumas at equal or greater rates than the rest of the population. That’s when the trouble began. The law has become stuck in the mire of partisanship.
Even as I cheered the bill’s passage in the Senate on Tuesday, I fumed.
Do the 22 male senators who voted against it have no sisters, daughters, or mothers? Is protecting states’ rights to allocate funding and the rights of American-citizen men who commit rape or battering or sexual abuse on tribal lands more important than protecting the women who are or would be the victims of violent intimate crimes?
And I was frustrated with myself for my own supposed politeness and my unwillingness to write here about politics.
I went to the gym, and read the quote at the bottom of the white board:
I am angry enough to leave my polite no-overt-political-talk comfort zone.
Angry at the 22 Republican men of the Senate, including Florida’s Marco Rubio, who voted no. Angry at the news media that was too obsessed with a manhunt in California to give this issue any real coverage. Angry at the House which hasn’t even scheduled a vote.
Angry that one in three women on the planet will experience violence–sexual abuse, rape, domestic violence–in her lifetime.
I’ve been writing a series of freedom-centered writing prompts over at IRLife.com this month, and I want to share some of them here.
Here’s the first one:
In ancient Rome, slaves who were to be freed were given a hat called a pileus during a ceremony of emancipation. Reading that, I thought, “why would they want to wear a special hat–couldn’t they want to look ‘normal’ and hatless, not showing that they had ever been enslaved at all?
I caught myself. Isn’t that the same thing as asking why we can’t “pass” as someone who’s never experienced abuse or trauma of any kind?
Most days I can accept, and some days I can even celebrate, who I am because of my experiences. I am proud to wear the hat of a survivor.
I picked at my scrambled eggs and cantaloupe this morning as I watched her sitting at a nearby table, tapping on her phone.
Last fall we’d met at another fundraiser. We were both team leaders, and she and her team were the top money-raisers.
Then, as today, she looked beautiful, strong, and self-assured.
She stood to speak, and I assumed that she was going to talk about the good things Women In Distress does, and she did, but she also told her own story of being a survivor. She told of the disconnect between being with an abusive husband at night and going to work in the morning as a successful gynecological surgeon.
People have said that they are surprised when I tell my story. I was surprised when she told hers.
Tonight I am most surprised by my surprise. I thought I understood that there is no clear victim-identifier. That the fact that one in three women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime means one in three women. Period.
Apparently I needed a yzwoman’s reminder.
Many thanks to my yzwoman friend Jeanne for the ingenious title which helps me to complete my abecedarium on this leap day.