Remember last year, when pretty much the entire country watched that leaked video of former Baltimore Ravens player Ray Rice knocking his then fiancé, Janay Palmer, unconscious in an elevator? If you saw the video, it’s pretty hard to forget. In it, he proceeds to drag her limp body out of the elevator, and then he appears to kick her, maybe to see if she would wake up. It’s violent, and it’s ugly.
We know that this is wrong. We know that this is not okay. Of course we know all of this. And yet, when the story aired on news channels across the country, all we heard were the same things over and over- questions like: “Why didn’t she leave him after that?” or “How could she possibly still marry him?”
Yes, it’s true: Palmer and Rice married after the incident. There are many valid reasons why victims of domestic violence don’t leave (love, fear, financial concerns, to name a few), but that’s beside the point of this article. Asking questions like “Why didn’t she leave?” when talking about domestic violence is equivalent to “What was she wearing?” when talking about rape. It puts the focus (and the blame) on the victim, rather than the abuser.
This is called victim blaming, and unfortunately, it happens all the time. Rather than blaming the abuse on the actual perpetrator, society all too often asks questions that imply the victim somehow deserved the abuse. Instead of wondering why a victim of domestic violence stays, we need to focus on blaming the batterer for the abusive behavior.
Examples of victim blaming: • Why doesn’t she leave? • If she is still with him, she must like it. • If he was a real man, he wouldn’t put up with that. • What did she do to provoke it? • What was she wearing? • He should have known his boyfriend gets angry when he’s drunk. • She just should have done what he asked her to do.
It’s important to remember that abuse is never the victim’s fault. It doesn’t matter who it is, the situation, or what led up to the abuse. Nobody asks, nor deserves, to be abused.
As long as we're asking why she stayed, or what he did to deserve to get beat up, we will never ask why the abuser committed the crime or what in our culture taught him to do so. We must stop blaming the victim for the abuse and put the blame back on the abuser.
The story of Ray Rice is no different- he made the decision to hit his girlfriend. It is his fault that she got hurt. No one else’s.