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Janay Rice’s response might be troubling, but it’s not surprising

In this May 1, 2014, file photo, Baltimore Ravens football player Ray Rice holds hands with his wife, Janay Palmer, as they arrive at Atlantic County Criminal Courthouse in Mays Landing, N.J. (AP Photo/Mel Evans, File)
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I feel sorry for Janay Rice.

“THIS IS OUR LIFE!” Rice said in a statement to the public released through Instagram Tuesday morning. “No one knows the pain that the media & unwanted options from the public has caused my family,” she explained. “To make us relive a moment in our lives that we regret every day is a horrible thing.”

But I have to wonder why she’s so angry with the media and with the public, rather than with Ray Rice, her then-fiance and now-husband who was videotaped beating her up in an elevator.

Her response is not surprising, said Brian Pinero, director for digital services of The National Domestic Violence Hotline and LoveIsRespect, a program for teens and young adults. “Remember, she is the victim,” he told me. “We hear from women all the time, ‘but I still love him.'”

“Any victim of physical abuse has suffered psychological and emotional abuse as well,” said Kristin Brumm, associate executive director of SAFEHOME, a shelter for domestic violence victims in Overland Park, Kan. “They may actually believe they’re to blame.”

Beverly Gooden, who started #WhyIStayed, which is trending on Twitter, listed nearly a dozen reasons why she didn’t leave her abusive husband. As she told The Washington Post, it took her a year to realize she should get out of the marriage and then two months to plan her departure. Others have tweeted #WhyILeft.

Brumm took to SAFEHOME’s Facebook page to list some of the reasons why victims of domestic violence stay: “Love, guilt, religion, children, shame, hopelessness, embarrassment, loyalty, exhaustion, gender roles, family pressure. Lack of money, lack of friends, lack of family support, lack of confidence. Depression, anxiety and low self-esteem resulting from years of psychological abuse. Fear. Fear of being alone, fear of hurting the kids, fear of not being able to provide, fear of losing everything, fear of repercussions, fear of being hurt, litigated, belittled or killed.”

I’ve tried to teach my daughter that there are no second chances when it comes to domestic violence. “If your boyfriend ever hits you, you leave.” Period.

Leaving, though, isn’t that easy. “It’s not an event, it’s a process,” Brumm told me, and it takes an average of seven times before a victim leaves the abuser for good, Pinero said.

The Rices have a child together, and that’s certainly an impetus to try to salvage the relationship. Others suspect Janay Rice’s motives are driven by finances. She may be angry at the media response for leading to her husband’s indefinite suspension from the NFL and the possible end of his career.

Brumm addressed that when she said, “All of her hopes and dreams and plans for the future are wrapped up in this relationship.”

With all the discussion about Janay Rice, I can’t help but remember Kasandra Perkins. She was the girlfriend of Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher. In December 2012 he shot Perkins multiple times, killing her in front of their 3-month-old daughter. Then he drove to Arrowhead Stadium where he turned the gun on himself.

She was the forgotten victim in the social media storm that followed as the public wondered if it was depression or head injuries that led Belcher to take his life.

Three women a day, on average, are killed by a boyfriend or husband in the United States. Where’s the Ice Bucket Challenge raising awareness and money for this epidemic?

Leaving an abusive spouse, sadly, is often the most dangerous time for a woman. She’s 70 percent more likely to be killed when she’s trying to escape, said Brumm.

Janay Rice doesn’t want to leave. So can this marriage be saved? Should we stop “demonizing” Ray Rice, as neurosurgeon Ben Carson, a potential 2016 presidential contender, has suggested?

Although the recidivism rate is “pretty high,” Brumm said, “the only way, from my perspective, that we’ll heal as a society” is for not just the victim, but the abuser, to get help. Too many of the men who perpetuate violence against women were themselves the victims of violence. “That’s not an excuse but it provides context,” she said.

As Time writer Charlotte Alter asked on Twitter, “Shouldn’t we be asking men why they hit?”

Pinero says programs exist to work with men who are abusers. “Ray Rice can come back from this,” he told me. “But it’s not going to happen tomorrow.”

I don’t know that I’d give Ray Rice a second chance if he were my husband, but that decision is up to Janay Rice. The public, along with the media, should respect that.

But if he ever hits her again….