Correction: A previous version of this column incorrectly identified the name of the domestic violence assistance group in the District. This version has been corrected.
Does seeing the punch to Janay Rice’s face matter? Oh, yes, said domestic violence advocates, who think that the elevator video has the power to change everything.
“It’s been happening since the beginning of time, but this is the first time it’s been caught on camera like this for all the world to see,” said Lauren Vaughan, executive director of My Sister’s Place in the District. “Domestic violence happens behind closed doors. And Ray Rice waited for those elevator doors to close.”
Sure, there is the evidence of abuse. Bruises, cuts, scrapes, broken bones, a woman lying unconscious. But somehow — and sadly — seeing the way it happened with our own eyes changes things.
The camera inside that casino elevator showed what we never see: Janay, then the fiancee of Baltimore Ravens star running back Ray Rice, stands in the corner of the elevator. And it showed the powerful blow of his fist, then her rag-doll body.
The camera view we usually get is what we saw this week: Janay Rice, now the wife of Ray Rice, standing by her man and explaining that their relationship is private, that this is family business. “To make us relive a moment in our lives that we regret every day is a horrible thing,” she announced defiantly on Instagram.
And there it is, including herself in the blame with “we regret.”
Poor woman. Domestic violence is, above all, embarrassing. And seeing the part of her life she thought was behind closed doors broadcast around the world is humiliating.
But there will be a greater good out of her personal pain. Domestic violence hotlines are ringing like never before since that video hit the world.
“We’ve had a big increase in calls from women. A lot of them are calling to get into support groups, to get counseling or to get away,” said Sarah Jones, the office manager at the Family Crisis Center of Prince George’s County.
The women in its shelter — which is almost always at capacity with its 55 beds full — are watching the news, seeing the video and seeing themselves.
Some have spent years blocking out the blows, explaining away the bruises. It takes an average of seven attacks before a woman leaves her abuser, Jones said.
Advocates are hoping that this video — which for some survivors was like seeing their abuse in a mirror — helps women make those calls after the fifth, the third or maybe even the first time. And for the women who did run, it makes explaining it a whole lot easier.
“Oh, yeah — I heard about it,” a woman who is living in a shelter safe house in the District said as she rushed to work, past the security cameras and shaded fence that keep her safe. “We all heard about it.”
And they are hoping it also shows the world that the hit-stay-hit cycle knows nothing about class or money.
“People from all walks of life and all nationalities come here for help,” Jones said. “We have police officers, managers, social workers. All kinds of people.”
That’s a change. Because silence was the solution when Jones was growing up, especially when an attacker was otherwise an upstanding member of society.
“Back when we were growing up, if you were hit, you go home to your parents and they say, ‘What did you do to that boy? He’s hardworking. He’s putting a roof over your head,’ and you know he’s hard-hitting, too,” Jones said. “They sent you back, told you to go back to him and try harder.”
Women are always blaming themselves. That’s what Janay Rice did. And the NFL, Ravens executives and the rest of America helped her with that.
Janay married him, so how bad could he be? She was kicking and spitting, she was attacking him, too!
Abused women try to fix the situation, and the closed doors help them do it.
“Most of the time, women think: ‘What can I do to keep this from happening again?’ ” Vaughan said. “Abusers tell her, ‘You didn’t get dinner on the table, you didn’t clean this up, you didn’t do this or didn’t do that.’ And the woman thinks: ‘If I can just be more perfect, maybe he’ll leave me alone.’ ”
Women took to social media with a #WhyIStayed campaign explaining all the reasons they didn’t just run, the way folks think Janay Rice should have done.
“I have a genetic disease and his health insurance was covering my treatment,” one woman tweeted.
“Because ‘If I can’t have you, NO ONE will have you’ was reinforced by my abuser daily,” another one wrote.
Really, for many women, they love the relationship, but not the abuse.
Remember Rihanna and Chris Brown?
We saw the pictures, we could see what he did to her beautiful face. But we didn’t actually see him hit her, so our memory of it faded along with her bruises.
We won’t be able to forget Janay’s pain, even if she’d like us to.
Domestic violence is finally getting the uncomfortable spotlight it has long deserved. Because when Ray Rice was filmed busting on his wife, he busted those closed doors wide open.
For previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/dvorak.