Counselling Hills: Speechless, But Not Voiceless

There are so many things I should be doing today but I am frozen, in shock, sitting here, trying to digest the situation that is currently unfolding in the States regarding a video that was released by TMZ.

It shows a famous NFL football player, Ray Rice, assaulting his then fiancé (now wife) in a hotel elevator, knocking her unconscious, then dragging her, still unconscious, dropping her half in-half out of the elevator, then standing back as a security guard and other hotel guests gather round to work out what is happening.

I’ve seen people taking their garbage out with more care than Ray Rice showed to his unconscious fiancé. (Oh, but he did kick her legs closed so that her underwear would not be on full view to the approaching security guard – who by the way – just stood there looking at the poor woman on the ground).

Appalling is an understatement. Beyond appalling.

As a therapist who works with Domestic Abuse cases regularly, my heart breaks for the millions of people around the world right now who are living in fear of their partner; who are being demeaned, threatened, bullied, controlled and assaulted; even murdered by their partners.

I think what is the most shocking about this situation is the blatancy. This is unambiguous. The abuse was caught on camera for the world to see. This is not a “he said, she said” situation. Ray Rice has nowhere to hide. There is no question about what went on.

Even I, who work with victims and survivors of domestic abuse all the time, have never witnessed the physical abuse of a woman right before my eyes.

And it touches on a very raw and vulnerable place inside me as a woman, because I know that at the end of the day, regardless of how much equality does exist between the men and women these days, we are vulnerable when it comes to physical strength. I may be equal to men in every other way, but as a very petite female, I would never stand a chance against the left hook of a Ray Rice.

And please do not think for a minute that abuse is only assault. I have counselled men who swear they don’t abuse their wife because they proudly claim they have never hit her. However they have pushed her, shoved her, stood over her, smashed furniture around her, used their physical strength to block her from leaving.

These same men have dominated her, controlled her, punished her for seeing friends and relatives, consistently accused her of flirting or having affairs, prevented her from having access to money.

I am aware that men are abused as well. I have counselled men in this situation too. It is shocking that any person should be abused. It’s disgusting. And I am aware that men who are abused feel extremely dis-empowered; like they cannot defend themselves for fear their partner will report him to the police as the abuser.

However, the men I have counselled who are victims say they do not fear their partner because they know that, at the end of the day, they are physically stronger. It is a different story for female victims.

I am outraged that the NRL minimised this incident and only suspended him for 2 games until the TMZ video went viral. Only then did they sack Ray Rice. I am outraged that we live in a world that allows Domestic Violence to continue and who “let’s off” people like Ray Rice with a 6 month Domestic Violence Program when he should be imprisoned.

One article I read quoted the current highest paid boxer, (who himself was goaled for Domestic Violence), stating that what Ray Rice did was ‘not that bad’ – and that much worse things go on behind closed doors.

Wow. Has the world gone mad? What he is actually saying is that violence against women is acceptable and normal and should be allowed.

But I am most saddened for his wife Janay. Not only has she had to endure the trauma of this assault (and goodness knows how many other assaults at home if our boxer’s comments are a reflection) and the humiliation of the public nature of this incident; but can you imagined how terrified she must be right now?

Her abuser (the one who has harmed her and who is a violent presence in her life) has now been ‘outed’, is now out of a job and being hurled across the coals in front of the world. If he was violent and angry before, God only knows how enraged he is going to be now. She must be terrified.

No wonder she is ‘standing by her man’ publically. She is in fear. She does not dare say otherwise. No doubt she feels trapped. She even ‘deeply regretted’ her part in the incident. She has most likely been told by her abuser that it was her fault he knocked her out.

(It’s called blame-shifting. It is a trait of abusers and it goes like this: “If you didn’t do X, Y or Z, I wouldn’t have hit you; called you a *****, smashed your phone/ the wall etc.”)

When an abuser blame-shifts, they shift the responsibility for their actions onto someone else to avoid self-responsibility. The truth is, Ray Rice chose to knock-out his wife and then callously leave her on the ground, undignified and unconscious. Nobody made him do that.

And the final dark cherry on this black and evil scourge we call domestic violence? Ray Rice sat next to his wife at the press interview and apologised to the NFL and to his fans. He talked about wanting to be a better role model and pleading for a second chance, but he did not apologise to his wife. He did not acknowledge or take responsibility for his abusive actions.

I wanted to hear him say – as I am quite sure the rest of us did – “There is NO excuse for abuse. I did the wrong thing. I crossed the line and I am deeply sorry Janay for doing so. I had no right to use my physical strength to hurt and dominate you, rendering you unconscious in a heap on the ground. It was, and is and always will be unacceptable behaviour.”

But no. All we got was what appeared to be a self-interested attempt to put out the fire so that he could be re-instated.

 

If you are in an abusive relationship please know, you are not alone. You are not all those awful things your partner has said you are. You are not perfect, none of us are. But you do not deserve to live in a climate of criticism, accusation, control and abuse, being relieved when the explosion passes, but deep down living in fear of the next time he or she goes off.

There is no excuse for any form of abuse; male to female, female to male. A partner is not a prisoner. They are a human being, worthy of dignity and respect; and the freedom to make their own choices in this world.

If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship please reach out. Or if the situation is an emergency here are some other numbers you can call:

Lifeline (24 hours/7 days): 13 11 14

Emergency: 000

Domestic Violence Line: 1800 656 463 (TTY 1800 671 442).

Violence Against Women – Australia Says No (24 hours/7 days): 1800 200 526

Kids Helpline (24 hours/7 days): 1800 55 1800

Mensline Australia (24 hours/7 days): 1300 78 99