|NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell|
The purpose of this post is to highlight the second major criticism, one that is not at all unique to the NFL or even domestic violence: victim blaming/shaming.
Victim blaming occurs whenever the victim of a crime or abuse or other wrongdoing is held responsible, at least in part, for the actions of the perpetrator. Have you heard the claim that a woman who has been raped shouldn't have been wearing such a short dress? Or that a store owner who was robbed brought it on himself because he forgot to lock the door? Or recently, when celebrities' intimate photos were stolen and leaked online that those individuals should have been more careful where they stored such personal files? All absurd claims. All victim blaming. The ONLY person responsible for a crime is the person who committed it.
Let me be very clear. If someone hurts you, be it physically, verbally, emotionally (including use of manipulation) or otherwise, it is not your fault. You are not culpable for the actions of others. Period.
|Ray Rice, former Baltimore Raven|
After the video of Rice and Palmer surfaced, a lot of people started speaking out with statements like, “I can't believe she still married him after that” and “Well, she lunged at him before he hit her, so it's partially her fault.” No. It's not Palmer's fault that Rice, a very strong professional athlete, struck her so hard that she fell unconscious to the floor and had to be dragged out of the elevator, completely limp. I don't care what they were arguing about. I don't care if he'd had a rough day. I don't care if she said something that hurt his feelings. His behavior was unacceptable and was also 100% not her fault. Ray Rice is the sole individual in charge of what his own fists do and don't hit.
As the shaming amped up, Beverly Gooden decided she needed to respond. As a former victim of domestic abuse, she understands the nuances involved in a relationship involving violence, and knew she needed to spread some awareness. So she headed over to Twitter and began sending out reasons for #WhyIStayed. The hashtag took off, with people all over contributing their own stories of why they stayed in a violent situation. If you want to read some of those, I'd encourage you to start with this article. Stories include elements of fear, manipulation, believing they deserved the abuse, love for their partners. They reveal the complexities of relationships and how it's not a simple matter of just walking away. There are multiple layers to any such situation, and it's not always clear how to best handle them – and that's assuming the victim can even recognize they are being abused and acknowledge they should be treated differently.
Why does this topic belong on a blog written by a counter-trafficking organization? Because these same tactics – fear, manipulation, physical restraint, threatening loved ones or children – are used by traffickers to control their victims. Additionally, many victims of trafficking believe they are in love with their abusers. They often willingly enter into a relationship with the trafficker, seeing him or her as a boyfriend or girlfriend, seeking love and acceptance and approval they've previously been denied, not realizing they are being prepped for exploitation. By the time the abuse sets in, victims can't see it, can't cope with it, won't accept or address it, and will deny that it is even an issue.
So, then, when an outsider makes the statement of, “Why doesn't she just leave?” it's not only insensitive, it's also ignorant. Think of the bond created between lovers, and the devotion that develops as the relationship strengthens. You're committed to that person, and willing/desirous to see life through with them, no matter what. Those same elements still exist when domestic violence or trafficking occurs. Those desires to please your significant other, to work out whatever “struggles” arise, to overcome “challenges” your relationship may face. When struggles and challenges take the form of abuse, the bond/devotion/love doesn't just go away.
That's also why so many victims return to their traffickers. The emotional connection they feel and the elements of fear/manipulation engrained in them keep pulling them back. Until we can understand that, at least on a logical level if not an empathetic one, we cannot begin to offer any real relief from abuse. The psychological hold is a difficult one to break, worse than any substance addiction you might experience.
So the next time you see someone locked into a cycle of abuse, don't respond with condemnation and accusation. Unless you've been there yourself, you have no idea what they're going through. Let's stop blaming victims for the actions of their abusers and adding yet another element of guilt on top of their already-weighty emotional state. Whatever you think about Janay Palmer's decision to go through with her marriage to Ray Rice and to stand by him as he appeals his suspension, you're looking at the situation as an outsider. Try to remember that.