Janay Palmer: An Abuse Victim Taking the Blame

Janay Rice, Janay Palmer, Ray Rice, domestic abuseWhen the domestic abuse story of Ray Rice and Janay Palmer first surfaced this summer, someone on the Baltimore Ravens’ Twitter feed decided it was a good idea to suggest that maybe Janay, Rice’s then-fiancee, and now his wife, should take some of the blame.  In a now deleted tweet, that can still be seen because it was retweeted by so many, the Ravens said:

i.3.deleted tweet

Of course. Who wouldn’t think that a woman much smaller than a professional football player who waves her arm at him in annoyance deserves to be punched in the face, beaten in fact, and lie unconscious in the doorway of an elevator, had a role in her own assault. Her role? Palmer’s only role was being in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong person. Yet, someone at the Ravens decided that Palmer had to pay a price by being a person who could help deflect the negative attention from her husband, the money-making machine.

So often, when a man physically assaults his partner there are plenty of people around to make it seem like two people are at fault. Uber-conservative doctor turned wannabe politician Ben Carson is urging that we not judge Ray Rice too harshly because, and I’m paraphrasing here, it takes two to tango. So Palmer is paying the additional price of not just being the victim, but also of being her own perpetrator.  It’s something I know when I see it, because I lived it.

When I was too young to know better, I married a man who I knew had a temper. He flew into rages over nothing and could become physically violent at the drop of a hat, especially if he’d been drinking. I don’t even remember what he was angry about the night he pushed me down two flights of stairs at the small town radio station where I worked. I don’t know why he then decided to kick a huge hole in the wall. What I do know is that I was fired from that job because I had allowed him into the building to pick me up from my late night shift to drive me home. I was battered, bruised and feared for my life. What I do know is that my employers did not care whether I was safe or not, whether I’d been seriously hurt. Now I was without a job because of my “lack of judgment” for allowing him to come in to the radio station, rather than having him wait outside. And I had no income of my own to allow me to leave our apartment.

I was the one who was punished, not the man who was then, but no longer is, my husband.

I stayed partly because I had no money to go anywhere else, but I also thought he would change. I couldn’t believe that anyone who claimed to love me would do such a thing. Or do it more than once. And I was embarrassed to have any one of my friends or family know what had happened.

My career started going better than his. I started making more money. I had more respect in our small, professional community. The price I paid for that was that he became angrier and more violent and abusive. Until one night, he pulled a butcher knife on me as I said I was leaving for good, having had enough of the angry eruptions, making excuses for him and wondering when he would hurt me again or kill me.

There’s a lot of chatter online with the hashtags #whyIstayed and #whyIleft as women share their stories of abuse. Some people in the conversation are saying that those who are critical of Janay for staying in her marriage with her abuser — because that is what Rice is —  claim that we are victim-blaming her and not being supportive or understanding of another couple’s marriage.

But it’s the Ravens, and the NFL, that started the victim-blaming of Palmer when they broadcast that now-deleted tweet.  Even if she said those words, they didn’t come from her own social media platform, but from the organization trying to protect its brand and its money.  That is the price Janay Palmer is paying — being the person who takes the spotlight off her abuser. Janay Palmer probably won’t fully realize that until the next time we see a sports franchise try to make a spouse or girlfriend take some of the heat for the criminal behavior of one of its stars.

Joanne Bamberger is an independent journalist and journalism entrepreneur who is also the author of the book Mothers of Intention: How Women and Social Media are Revolutionizing Politics in America. She is the founder and publisher of the The Broad Side. You can find her on Twitter at @jlcbamberger. Also, follow The Broad Side on Twitter at @The_Broad_Side and on Facebook!

Image via iStockphoto

  • Sheila Luecht

    Domestic violence is rampant in this country, but so many women are behind closed doors with it for reasons that are in many ways understandable. Your situation is an example of it. I am glad you were able to change your situation, and change your life. You are a survivor and now a leader for many women. Thank you for sharing your story.

    Many people are concerned how Janay Palmer’s life will turn out, how long it will be or short, based on her violent partner. People are pointing fingers at her because she supposedly hit him first. The response from him was many times over what ever she could have first done. Victim blaming in this case has an interesting twist. As this plays out in the media, my hope is she figures out she needs to get out and does it now, before it is too late.

  • Joan Haskins

    Thank you for this article. I am so sorry Janay Rice thinks she is partly to blame. Her only mistake was/is being in the wrong place, at the wrong time, with THE WRONG MAN. I hope she finds the strength to leave. (Ben Carson is a terrible disappointment.)

    • Joan Haskins

      Sorry, “wrong place, wrong time, wrong man” should have been in quotes since I took it directly from your article.

  • Eileen

    It’s sad that one has to have been a victim of abuse to totally understand it. Unless someone has been in an abusive situation they have no way of knowing what it is like to be afraid to leave and afraid to stay at the very same time. It is paralyzing. There are many men and women out there who think that a victim of abuse has at least some little power or means to leave an abusive situation at the very least. The fear that is generated by the abuser is so very difficult to overcome. I don’t think that people who don’t understand the psychology of the situation are bad people or disappointments. They just don’t have enough information to be able to understand. We who have been there need to educate those who have no clue AND we need to help those who are stuck in the Hell of abusive relationships.

  • What’s so sad is that so many of the women in these situations are addicted to their abusers. The relationship is like a drug to them and even though they know they shouldn’t be with the abuser they go back over and over again. Until they hit rock bottom or die. I was addicted to emotionally abusive men for a long time and it took 7 years in Al-Anon for me to break that cycle. It’s difficult, but absolutely possible. Thanks for your insights!

  • Lisa Solod

    Oh Joanne, Your story is one of thousands. I am so sorry people still don’t get it. WHY do we women have to keep fighting every single day just to be heard?

  • I appreciate your compelling reasons on why the victim shouldn’t be blamed or her decisions judged by people not in her shoes. I feel for what you endured but it’s good to now that you came out on the other side intact and perhaps stronger than ever.

  • So glad you were, finally, able to leave safely. What a horrible experience, and even though you’ve come out of it stronger, not all women or men do.

    Yes, “nice,” strong, smart men and women can be part of an abusive relationship. I was one of them, until I decided not to be.

  • Joanne, thank you so much for sharing your own story. What a horrific thing you lived through. You’re not alone; I am glad so many other women are speaking up, too. Thanks again for making space for this needed discussion.

  • Monique

    I understand why women stay. I know why I stayed — because I thought it wouldn’t happen again, because I had no where else to go, because no one else would ever want me, because it was my fault.

    I knew these things with such certainty that of course I stayed.

    Until I didn’t.

  • Rhiannon Edge

    and now the exact same thing is happening to Amber Heard.

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