In February of this year Ray Rice, a 27-year old professional football player with the Baltimore Ravens assaulted his fiancée, Janay Palmer, in a hotel elevator. Rice was arrested and subsequently indicted for third-degree aggravated assault. Not long after Rice and Palmer were married, Rice entered a pretrial diversionary program, avoiding jail time and the NFL gave Rice a two-game suspension for his bad behavior.
After initial outrage over what many deemed a simple slap on the wrist, the league subsequently revised its policy regarding how it will handle future domestic violence cases. And then video tape of the incident became available to the public. People were outraged to see Palmer punched so viciously and the NFL had to do some serious back pedaling. Rice’s contract was subsequently terminated and the NFL has suspended him indefinitely.
Comments on social media have run the gamut. Some have said Palmer deserved it for provoking Rice. Others believe castration would be a more fitting punishment than suspension. Everyone and their mother has tossed in their two-cents expressing everything from support to outrage and moral indignation.
I personally do not believe that was the first time Rice has hit Palmer. Nor was it the last. Like many women in abusive relationships Palmer has since come to the defense of her man, claiming the media is at fault for blowing this all out of proportion. She even apologized publically for her actions related to the initial assault. She has proclaimed Rice a good man who should not suffer the hurt and shame they are now going through. I don't know if Rice is a good man or not. I know he punched the woman he claimed to love in the face and then dragged her out of an elevator. I also know that if it had not been caught on camera we would not be having this conversation because Janay Palmer would never have told.
It breaks my heart to see so many young women who accept a man's bad behavior without question. We are not teaching our young women that they have value that extends past their private parts. Nor are we getting the message across that they don’t have to settle for relationships where they are blatantly disrespected or abused. If young girls today think it’s okay for a man to put his hands on them, or for them to put their hands on a man, then we are failing them all. If a woman doesn’t know and understand that love isn’t supposed to hurt then she is being taught the wrong lessons. And if we are saying those things and they still are not hearing or learning those lessons then we need to shout it louder and say it more often.
My late grandmother was never short on relationship advice. She would quote one adage after another.
- A man can only treat you the way you allow him to.
- Throw a punch at a man if you want but don’t be surprised if he punches back.
- If you don’t believe you deserve better, then how will he?
- A man only has to hit you one time. Then all you have to do is wait for him to fall asleep. (My personal favorite!)
Grandma’s advice made a whole lot of sense until I had to put it into practice. I discovered early on that maneuvering a relationship with an abusive partner is like maneuvering a minefield with a ton of weights. Every step is potentially dangerous. And every step is petrifying. And every so often that step can come with no repercussions at all. As I think back though, what my grandmother never said was that it's okay to leave. And leaving isn't failure. And his issues are not your issues.
But women in abusive relationships stay. They readily dismiss those moments when harsh words, or a vicious slap leaves them broken and battered. They stay in situations others would turn and run from. They defend bad behavior and continue to love their abusers, believing that things and people can change. And an abused woman can justify a man’s bad behavior as if her life depends on it because sometimes it does. Right or wrong some women will stay. I know I did. I stayed until staying was no longer an option.
I wrote a book once about a man who was abusive and the woman he abused. There’s a passage where someone asks “Why do you think she stays?” And the matriarch answers.
“At first, she stayed because she was scared. Angelette won’t nothing but a baby when Graye bought her home. Y’all know that. Came here running from something, thinking that Graye was going to make it all better. Then she stayed cause she loved him. Problem was she hadn’t done enough living to really know what love was. Just knew that Graye wasn’t as dark as what she’d been running from befo’. Thought that was love. After a while she just stayed cause this was all she knew. She knew what to expect. Knew what to do, when to do it, and if it got messed up, she knew how to fix it. Now…now, she stay cause she don’t have any other choice. Graye done beat all her choices out from under her and she think she ain’t got none left.”
Palmer will stay because she's still young. She will stay because she loves him. She will stay because it's all she knows. She will stay because she thinks she can fix it when it breaks. She will stay because she hasn't yet learned that she deserves better. She will stay until staying is no longer an option.