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#WhyIStayed and #WhyILeft Highlight the Isolated Lives of Domestic Violence Victims, Domestic Violence Facts and Resources

First Posted: Sep 17, 2014 01:04 PM EDT
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Domestic Violence

Photo : Marina D. Sandoval

The Baltimore Ravens' former running back Ray Rice has gained plenty of notoriety because of  footage released by TMZ showing him punching his then-fiancée (now wife), Janay Palmer, in the face. The already fierce blow sent Janay Rice's head into the elevator wall, knocking her out.

The assault, which took place on an elevator in an Atlantic City casino, has shone light on the dark issue of domestic violence, but it has also drawn attention to the reasons why victims of domestic violence, like Janay Rice, remain abusive relationships, defined as "the willful intimidation, physical assault, battery, sexual assault and/or other abusive behavior perpetrated by an intimate partner against another." 

The hashtags #WhyIStayed and #WhyILeft began trending after the release of the full-length footage of the incident, which also led to the termination of Rice's contract by the Ravens on Sept. 8. The hashtags have drawn dozens of brave voices from the darkness, as survivors of domestic abuse have used social media to confess the countless reasons why they personally remained in violent relationships, enduring verbal and/or emotional abuse, threats with words or gestures, physical abuse, sexual abuse, destruction of objects in their home, financial control and isolation.

Battered women don't often have video footage to support tales of abuse, and for the half that choose to file police reports after an incident, many find little resolution. As for the victims who remained silent and stayed, they've done so because they thought that their partners' tears meant that they were sorry for what they'd done; they thought there were no other options; and they thought that having a baby or a family meant that the perpetrator would see the collective effects of that abuse. They also stayed for a number of other reasons:

"#WhyIStayed bc god hates divorce #whyileft backed into a corner in kitchen wondering if i could reach a knife if he came at me--hmmm," said Twitter-user @MedievalAngie

"#whyistayed I promised to give him 5 years after he hit me the first time #WhyIleft my daughter tried to kill herself when she was 4," said @Goddess_Rae.

"#WhyIStayed not wanting fatherless sons. #WhyILeft not wanting motherless sons," said @imajumaican.

"#WhyIStayed Because I thought who can love me? #whyileft because my two daughters tought it was normal.. I needed to break the cycle," stated @mrsviri

For those unfamiliar with domestic violence, many openly pondered how Janay Rice could stay with Ray Rice, and Janay Rice herself took to Instagram to try to answer that question:

"To make us relive a moment in our lives that we regret every day is a horrible thing," she communicated via Instagram. "To take something away from the man I love that he has worked his ass of for all his life just to gain ratings is horrific." ­­­­­

Janay Rice's response is similar to many women caught in the nets of abuse, and shamed and embarrassed by the exposure. Beyond all else, women like Janay are compelled to continue "normal" lives and to keep dirty laundry from being aired. The thought that the world witnessed that very private violence can be positively horrific to a victim, even if Janay Rice now has the public's sympathy.

That said, prior to the release of the second video, individuals in the media, such as Steven A. Smith, promoted the assumption that domestic violence is often mutual or provoked. But, with the release of the second video, onlookers changed their tunes, and those who argued "Let [Rice] play" during his two-game and then six-game suspension, now shout down the NFL for its past policies and codes of conduct as it relates to domestic violence. The public now demands that the NFL and Janay Rice, and to some extent Ray Rice, be responsible for their behavior, bombarding them with media coverage and criticism, be it deserved or not.

While the gravity of domestic abuse has been understood by most outlets, some media sources and spectators have opted to sensationalize the event, drawing attention away from the violence, which then serves to futher dehumanize Janay Rice. Bystander comments have strayed from the deadliness of domestic violence and focused on whether one could see up Janay Rice's dress after she'd been knocked unconscious, or if she initiated the violence by striking him first, and they've joked about Rice's decision to take the elevator, saying he should have taken the stairs instead. Commenters have showered Janay Rice with blame for "refusal" to leave and decided that refusal means that she condones Rice's behavior, rather than questioning what's at the root at Rice's anger or if she's beeing manipulated into staying.

Survivors and advocates for victims of domestic abuse may be dismayed by Janay Rice's decision to stay with her husband, but many understand that escaping violent relationships is no easy feat. Survivors and advocates understand that when a victim looks to leave, that's potentially the most dangerous time for them.

The facts: Domestic violence is a vicious game that no one wants to play, and yet countless individuals across the world are beaten on a daily basis. And domestic abuse, while experienced by men, is largely a gender-biased crime. Eighty-four percent of spousal abuse victims and 86 percent of victims in partner disputes are women, and men account for 75 percent of perpetrators in cases of domestic abuse. Twenty-five percent of women in the U.S. are said to be victims of domestic abuse, and those numbers are similar when it comes to the Latino community.

The National Latina Network, or NLN, launched a campaign, entitled Te Invito, which focuses on targeting Latino men and boys and educating them about violence against women and teaching them about rejecting aggression, as well as the importance of steering clear of unhealthy relationships. The NLN effort includes special public service announcements, employing prominent Latinos, including clergymen and community members, to voice the long-term consequences of domestic abuse experienced by the victim and the perpetrator. They communicate that a conviction of domestic crime will likely be treated as a misdemeanor and will affect job prospects and educational attainment.

The long-term effect for 80 percent of female victims are chronic health problems, such as digestive disease, diabetes and asthma. It particularly has a disproportionate bearing on women of color, who suffer from domestic abuse at a higher rate than white women and are more likely to be uninsured.

Research also shows that one-third of women who experience domestic violence seek help from a health professional, but inequalities in the national health care system means that countless women remain ignorant of chronic illnesses that result from domestic abuse, and they likely won't treated for their afflictions.

Nearly 50 of Native American women have been beaten, stalked or raped by an intimate partner, according to the Department of Justice. Thirty percent of African-American women have experienced domestic abuse, and the National Institute of Justice has found that Hispanic women "are more likely than non-Hispanic women to be raped by a current or former intimate partner."

Also, physical violence at home challenges work stability because these women have to take off days from work because of injuries, trips to the hospital, trips to police stations to file police reports and trips to attend court dates. An estimated $727.8 million is lost annually because of lost productivity in the work place because of partner abuse, with more that 7.9 million workdays lost each year.

No woman deserves to be at the receiving end of blows dealt by her partner. And the longer excuses are made to protect abusers, the longer women will die at the hands of that violence. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, "On average more than three women a day, in the United States, are murdered by their husbands or boyfriends."

Linguistically and culturally, Hispanics face unique challenges when it comes to domestic violence, and when it comes to finding resources and services that address their needs. There's often a shortage of bicultural and bilingual personnel in police departments, in shelters, in courts and the usual outlets used to offer victims assistance.

For undocumented women, there's an added fear of deportation, or of having children removed from their homes. For this reason, there need to be more visible resources advertised to documented and undocumented victims of violence -- services that practice discretion and confidentiality. These services also need to be mindful of the traditions and values that endorse oppressive relationships, which leave women vulnerable to violence. These same services must also be sensitive to LGBTQ issues, educational attainment, substance abuse, financial standing and housing security.

If you or someone you love are in need of services in English or in Spanish, please look to the National Domestic Violence HotlineNational Latino Alliance for the Elimination of Domestic ViolenceOffice  for the Prevention of Domestic Violenceand Mujeres Latinas en Accion.

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