I don’t know Janay Rice. I don’t know her story, other than what’s been captured on film or filtered and given to us. I don’t know if she loves her husband or fears him or both. But we need to stop putting any responsibility on her and other victims of domestic violence for their own abuse. “Why does she stay?” is the most disgusting of questions, because it puts all the agency on her, when she usually has none. If you ask the question, you might get an answer you like, or don’t like, but it really doesn’t matter, because you shouldn’t be asking that question in the first place.
Why might she stay?
Maybe she stays because it earns her money. Maybe Rice earns enough that she’s comfortable, and doesn’t have to work, and he buys her nice things. Maybe she didn’t want to give up the fame that comes with being married to a player on the Baltimore Ravens. And this doesn’t change the fact that her partner hits her.
Maybe she has no support network. Maybe her family, or her friends, or her church, or the Ravens, are all telling her that he’ll change, she should stay, or that they can’t handle her moving in with them if she were to leave. Maybe she has no family. Maybe she has no close friends. Maybe he’s made sure of her having no close friends. Maybe she doesn’t want to leave her home and go to a shelter because it’s not the same standard of living she’s used to. This doesn’t change the fact that her partner hits her.
Maybe she’s scared for her daughter, Rayven. Maybe she’s worried that if she leaves, her daughter will never see her father, and she doesn’t want that. Maybe she’ll be scared that if she leaves, her child will be in danger, or she won’t be able to support her without her husband. Her abuser also being her daughter’s father doesn’t change the fact that her partner hits her.
Maybe she thinks she deserves it. Maybe she saw the tape, and thought that her actions towards him were too aggressive for a wife. Maybe her brain tells her that she mouthed off, that she got him mad, that she should have walked away before things got heated. Maybe her brain tells her that she’s supposed to be the stability of their marriage, and she let him down. Maybe her brain talks in its own voice, or maybe it talks in his. This doesn’t change the fact that her partner hits her.
Maybe she loves him. Maybe he’s told her that he lost control, but he’ll never do it again because his love for her is stronger than anything, and that together they can work through their problems. Maybe he buys her flowers after. Maybe he tells her that he wouldn’t make it without her, or that he’ll do something dangerous if she leaves. Maybe the video caught his worst moment, and 99% of the time she knows he’s good to her. Or maybe in his calm moments he’s good to her, and she only sees those moments every so often, but when they come, it’s wonderful. Or maybe her love for him is completely irrational and he’s never good to her. None of this changes the fact that her partner hits her.
Maybe she’s scared. Maybe she knows the statistic that the time women are most likely to be killed by their abusers is when they attempt to leave. Maybe her statements about true love have all been under coercion. Maybe she thought that he’d hit her more if he lost his job because she wasn’t standing by him. Maybe he’s threatened her, or maybe he hasn’t, but she thinks something bad will happen. Maybe she’s scared but nothing bad actually will happen. This doesn’t change the fact that her partner hits her.
Unless you’re a trained professional directly aiding the victim, trying to determine why a woman stays in an abusive relationship is a selfish, insulting, horrible thing to do. This question is nearly never asked for the victim’s benefit; it’s asked so whoever’s asking gets to stop caring because she could have left and helped herself.
There are so, so many better questions you can ask.
Why do so many men hit the women they’re married to?
Why did the Ravens take so long to fire Ray Rice?
Why are DV shelters so full, and why can’t they get funding?
Should DAs be able to prosecute abusers when their victims don’t want them to?
What do we do to help?
I don’t know if we’ll get answers to any of them any time soon, but these are the questions that have to get asked.