Candy Palmer made it very clear: She’s a good mom. She raised Janay Rice to be a lady. Not a victim of domestic violence.
“This is not the type of relationship she’s in,” Palmer said on NBC’s “Today” show Monday (Part 2 of the interview airs Tuesday). “There is no next time. I didn’t raise a young lady to be an abused woman.”
Janay and her family shared her story on “Today,” and on ESPN last week, to get beyond the video that shows then-fiance Ray Rice knocking her out in an elevator. She wants us to understand some very key points: She is confident. Her mama raised her right. She is not in an abusive relationship. She wouldn’t let anyone disrespect her. She hit him first. That video showed us a one-time incident.
“I’m a strong woman and I come from a strong family. Never in my life have I seen abuse, nor have I seen any woman in my family physically abused,” Janay told ESPN’s Jemele Hill. “I have always been taught to respect myself and to never allow myself to be disrespected, especially by a man. Growing up, my father used to always tell my sister and I, ‘We don’t need a man to make us; if anything it’s the man who needs us.’”
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I’m not here to judge Janay. But here’s the thing: It’s clear she thinks only a certain kind of person gets abused. While on “Today” she said she would never sit in silence and “let something happen” to her.
That sends a dangerous message. The truth: All kinds of women and men get abused. Strong, successful people. People from wealthy homes, people from stable families. No one “lets” themselves be abused. No one wants to suffer in silence.
“Domestic violence can happen to anyone,” said Janeé (yes, another woman with that name) Hanzlick, executive director of Safehome, Johnson County’s domestic violence agency. Doctors, lawyers, other highly educated women — all are among the 7,500 individuals who seek help there each year.
“Abused women come from all walks of life,” she said. “Never in a million years do they dream to be in an abusive situation; no one raises their child to be an abused woman. It’s not about the kind of woman she is or why she was abused. It’s about the abuser. What was his motivation? Why did he abuse her?”
The Johnson County district attorney’s office files about 2,000 domestic violence cases a year. Keep in mind, only about a third of abusive relationships get the legal system involved.
While it looks like Janay and her mom have sadly taken a victim-shaming approach, it’s important to understand where Janay is coming from, too.
It takes a woman seven to 12 attempts before she actually leaves an abusive relationship, says Marla Svoboda, chief development officer at Rose Brooks Center, a Kansas City domestic violence shelter. “I don’t want to infer that Janay is in that kind of situation. She says she is not. But when you are, you want to believe the person is going to change, that they are sorry and it won’t happen again. It’s a cycle.”
In America, 1 in 4 women have experienced abusive relationships. In Kansas City, police respond to about 15 domestic violence calls a day. Half of the callers fear for their lives. Some people stay. Some people are able to leave.
Janay’s decision to stay with her husband, an NFL running back, led to social media hashtags #WhyIStayed and #WhyILeft. All kinds of people shared their stories. Even former “Today” show host Meredith Vieira told of her abusive boyfriend from years ago to show that sometimes people stay in a relationship out of fear and shame. It’s not about being smart or strong or successful. It’s so much more complicated than having good parents.
But Janay said she and Ray are working through it. Is that possible? Was it just a one-time event? Can a couple get past it?
“In my experience, and I have been working in domestic violence for 17 years, it can happen,” Janeé Hanzlick said. “But it is extraordinarily difficult. In my opinion, I equate someone who is abusive to someone who has a problem with alcohol. They can get it under control, but it is something they have to work on for the rest of their lives. They have to work on it every single day.
“Unfortunately, we don’t have domestic violence anonymous programs. A woman or a man in that situation has to ask themselves is it worth risking their life or the lives of their children?”
It’s hard enough to admit to abuse. Why would anyone think walking away is easy?
Do you or someone you know need help? Make the call:
▪ Rose Brooks Center: 816-861-6100
▪ Safehome: 913-262-2868
▪ Hope House: 816-461-4673
▪ Metropolitan Organization to Counter Sexual Assault: 816-531-0233 or 913-642-0233
▪ Kansas City Anti-Violence Project: 816-561-0550 (help line for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders)
▪ National Domestic Violence Hotline: 800-799-7233