Most people are familiar with Ray Rice’s infamous punch to his fiancé, Janay Palmer, in an elevator. Ray’s one solid knockout punch came as a surprise to many people who couldn’t believe he was capable of such an incident. The elevator footage raised questions about how our society handles domestic violence, a usually taboo topic. For a subject that’s usually ignored until something major happens, domestic violence and abuse are far too common. 1 in every 3 women experience violence in a relationship with an intimate partner at some time in their lives.
In college, I worked as a victim advocate responding to different types of crisis calls and working with police to aid the callers. The majority of callers I worked with were women. This isn’t surprising given that on a typical day, domestic violence hotlines receive more than 20K calls. One call I received in particular stands out. This call completely altered the level of seriousness with which I viewed domestic violence and abuse.
Our campus police requested that the on call victim advocate report to a specific dorm, so I left some essay I was working on and ran over. A female had been physically assaulted by her boyfriend, who threatened her further if she told anyone. I remember how alone she looked. She had no one else there for her. Going through a mental checklist of response actions, I went over and asked if I could sit with her. She didn’t answer, but rather stared at me with her deep brown eyes. That was it – she just stared. Then, she looked around the room and stared at everyone else. Of all the events that followed her particular situation, the thing I remember most is that stare. The fear in her eyes was the most intense fear I have ever seen. She didn’t cry or really talk. She just looked at all the police officers and myself as the completely distant people we were. When she looked around that dorm room, her unadulterated, unfiltered fear made all of us afraid, even if it was for just a second. Some of my worst fears seemed like absolutely nothing compared to what this woman had faced with her boyfriend.
It’s easy to be so sucked into a relationship that we oftentimes don’t see as dangerous. Domestic violence can consist of a wide range of actions, including psychological abuse, physical abuse, threats, isolation, manipulation, intimidation and economic control. These behaviors are designed to give the abuser power, so that the victim feels powerless and not in control. Later the woman I worked with that day finally confided in us, saying that her boyfriend had threatened to ruin her chances for a visa to stay in the United States if she told anyone about what he had done to her. The fear of being deported added to the terror in her eyes.
The cycle of violence is incredibly scary and unhealthy. In short, it occurs in 3 stages. The first is a tense and stressful waiting period. The woman with the terrified eyes described this time as her boyfriend being in a constant state of agitation when around her. The second stage is the outburst stage, where physical or emotional abuse takes place. The third and final stage is referred to as the honeymoon period, where the abuser attempts to be loving and repentant. The abuser will often try to shower the victim with gifts and affection. At some point, the cycle starts over.
This terrifying cycle doesn’t mean there isn’t a way out. There are a lot of resources for women who suffer from domestic violence. The National Domestic Violence hotline is 24/7 and can be reached using the phone number 1-800-799-7233. Other great resources include the National Resource Center on domestic violence which can be reached at 1-800-537-2238 or through their website at www.nrcdv.org. Most cities and/or states also have their own specific shelters and organizations that can help in domestic violence situations.
The atrocity of Ray Rice’s knockout punch was caught on film, allowing society to take measures against him and forcing people to confront this issue. The problem is that there are so many instances similar to the Ray Rice punch that occur every day and get no media attention. There is no question of how society should handle domestic violence – there should be a 100% zero tolerance policy. The woman I worked with in college was able to regain control of her life after getting help. Let’s make sure we give that opportunity to all women confronted by domestic violence.