Ray Rice is the tip of the iceberg

Approximately a quarter of women in the United States will be victims of severe physical domestic violence in their lifetimes and more than 100 Texas women will be killed by an intimate partner each and every year.

Recent crime data tell us that nearly 200,000 incidents of family violence were reported to Texas law enforcement officials in 2013, and since most go unreported, this already alarming number represents only a small portion of actual incidents.

Despite these statistics and the likelihood that someone close to each of us is in a violent relationship, it took the abhorrent actions of an NFL running back to draw renewed attention to these tragedies that occur every day.

The public disgrace of Ray Rice also has dredged up some misconceptions about domestic abuse. One myth is that women bear or share some of the responsibility. In the days after the initial video of Rice dragging his then-fiancé out of the elevator, his football team, the Baltimore Ravens, tweeted, “Janay Rice says she deeply regrets the role that she played the night of the incident.”

Let’s stop the victim blaming. Let’s stop shifting the blame from the abuser.

We also seem to turn our back on the seriousness of violence against women. The cold hard fact is that it wasn’t until the full video was released – the one showing Rice punching his fiancé – that there was a public outcry. Only then did the Ravens cut Rice. Only then did the NFL suspend Rice indefinitely. Only then did this story become bigger than the NFL. Why did these officials need to see the video to mete out Rice’s punishment? Why wasn’t the first video enough to move the NFL to a stricter penalty?  

Those are important questions since video evidence doesn’t usually exist for the thousands of women who experience daily abuse at the hands of their partner. And it shouldn’t have to. Let’s start believing women and getting them the resources they need. The massive numbers of women who do not receive help far outnumber the infinitesimally small number of those who might lie or exaggerate about abuse.

Finally, let’s stop asking the insensitive questions such as: “Why does she stay?” or “Why did she marry him?” or “Why doesn’t she just leave?” The reasons are multiple and complex, and include economic pressures, lack of resources, fear of escalated violence and attraction to their partner. But since no woman wants to be in an abusive relationship, let’s start asking, “What can we do to help?” This is an especially important question in Texas due to the number of women who can’t get the help they need. In fact, approximately 30 percent of adult victims in need of shelter in Texas are turned away because of a lack of space.

As a violence researcher, I often hear two sports-related myths: that Super Bowl Sunday is when domestic violence spikes, and that football players have high rates of aggression given what they do for a living. Neither is true. Family violence does not need a special occasion to occur, nor does it need a particular type of person. The fact is, violence against women is prevalent, widespread and crosses all economic and social boundaries.

Jeff Temple

Vice chairman of the Texas Task Force on Domestic Violence