On the Revictimization of Janay Rice and the NFL's Role in Reshaping Masculinity

by Stephany Rose, Ph. D.

As a survivor of sexual assault, I know that the second most traumatic experience after an assault is reliving one’s assault over and over again. It’s beyond horrific to have lived through the abuse to begin with, but to loose control over how you come to reclaim your agency, your power, your self is just as life threatening as the assault. Thus, when the second video of Ray Rice’s assault against Janay Rice emerged on Monday, Sept. 8th, my heart ached once again for Janay. Here she was again being forced by capitalizing media interest to live on instant reply a fateful night that so many others are using to define her life.

Though I would never claim to “know” her experience, I empathize with the traumatic stress being forced upon, violating her again and again. Her pleas to allow her and her family the human dignity to reclaim and heal in their lives have been ignored for a sensationalized news hour.

To be clear, it is Janay’s right and power to determine personally what healing becomes for her. It is also her right to work out with whom she chooses that healing.

Yet, the comments kept coming. But she married the dude. We can’t hold him any more accountable than the prosecutor who agreed to a pretrial plea. She is defending him, so why should we care?

Once again, Twitterheads and Facebook philosophers are bantering on in matters beyond their pay grades. As a public, we have conflated what is and is not our responsibility to society with the egregious responses to caring for an individual’s well-being.

It is our responsibility to walk the delicate balance of compassion and concern for Janay, while simultaneously reprogramming our culture and our selves in the necessary ways to end intimate partner violence. It is our responsibility to teach one another that an abuser’s violence against another human being is more important than how well he or she performs in their job. It is our responsibility to teach never to suggest that abusers were somehow justified in their violence because their victim/s may have provoked the incident/s. It is our responsibility to teach that all survivors’ human dignity matters, whether she, he, or hir has access to public concern via celebrity culture, or she, he, or hir simply lives up the street from us. It is our responsibility to tirelessly work to end intimate partner violence and all oppression, so that internalizing oppression is never an option.

Intimate partner violence is never simply a private matter, for it is a reflection of a culture that does not equally and equitably value the lives of all within the community. It is indicative of our collective practices that suggest those with more access to power, agency, cultural capital are more valuable to our structuring of society. In this specific regard, Ray Rice, the New Jersey courts, Baltimore Ravens’ Franchise, and the NFL all deemed Ray Rice more valuable to the needs and wants of the society by not rendering a just response to the dehumanization and abuse of Janay (then Palmer) in the beginning.

Defending one’s love for a person after abuse that has happened does not erase the fact that abuse has taken place. Nor does it mean that one is automatically in denial about what has taken place. It may indicate where a person is psychologically and spiritually in regards to processing and healing from the trauma. But ultimately, healing is the right and responsibility of the parties involved. Can a domestic violence abuser learn not to abuse? Absolutely, just as much as abusers of alcohol and drugs can learn not to do so when they are committed to confronting their psycho-spiritual realities and doing the work necessary to heal.

After my abuse, it took me nearly thirteen years to consciously accept and speak the words, “I was raped.” In the immediate aftermath of the assault I “accepted my responsibility” in what happened. It was college. I was a young woman in a man’s dorm room after hours. What did I expect he wanted other than sex at such a time? Real good Christian girls would have not put themselves in that environment to begin with in the first place. Yes I had said, “no”, but I didn’t kick, scream out, or leave him bloody, so was it really resistance to begin with? I accepted the shame as “my responsibility” to the point that I suppressed and denied the experience as real.

For thirteen years, I lived the internalized oppression that I was studying and now teach about as a college professor. For two years afterwards, I watched my violator exalted by his fraternity brothers, by our campus, and ultimately the U.S. Marine Corps because I did not have the language or power to identify him as a rapist. And unless by chance he reads this essay, he will never see himself as a sexual abuser because it took me thirteen years to name it as it is—and we are well beyond the statute of limitations, not to mention that the material evidence of what happened to me no longer exists.

It is not for us to determine if Janay has internalized oppression, nor how she should be responding to our public liking. It is up to us to make it clear that every survivor knows that they are not responsible for the abuses of violence inflicted upon them. Additionally, the prevention of violence is our utmost societal responsibility.

How the Rice’s move forward as a family is up to them to work out. But how we move forward as a nation fascinated by violence and violation is something we must diligently pursue so that future incidents become non-existent.

Having dealt with the public outcry from women, allies, and anti-domestic violence communities what transpired on Monday was a corporation attempting to rectify a grave public embarrassment made by their first decision due to a perceived loss in revenue and cultural currency. If the NFL, from athletes to administration, seriously wants to engage justice against intimate partner violence, then it needs to be at the forefront of recreating masculine culture in the United States. Having a formal policy in hopes to deter future abuse is a viable start. However, much work is needed on and off the field to help owners, employees, and fans to rethink notions of gender, power, violence, and communal responsibility. Not doing this work makes a farce out of the suspension, leaving the league just as complicit in devaluing the lives of those victimized by intimate partner abuse for which no month long of colored cleats, helmets or ribbons can justify.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Stephany Rose, Ph.D. is an assistant professor of women’s and ethnic studies at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs.

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