Domestic abuse victims don’t deserve blame
The video release of former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice assaulting his now wife, Janay, sparked much debate across the news and social media about intimate partner violence.
This very public debate grew even more heated when Janay spoke out defending Ray and criticizing her own behavior. Then the blame game began, with the victim receiving the brunt of the blows yet again. “The focus should be on holding the perpetrator of the abuse accountable. Blaming the victim is not helpful,” says Judy Petrushka, domestic outreach specialist at Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove, Ill.
Although having this behavior play out on a public stage with public figures has been positive in terms of shedding light on the issue of intimate partner violence, Petrushka says it’s also been negatively charged with misinformation and victim blaming.
The insensitive and uneducated conversations happening on news stations where people are joking and blaming Janay, and victims in general, for staying in an abusive relationship are hard for Petrushka to hear.
“Staying in an abusive relationship, especially given the lack of resources and social supports for many, should never be read as accepting abuse,” explains Petrushka.
Leaving isn’t easy
Most think the simple solution to the problem is to just leave. Leaving, cautions Petrushka, is never as easy as you might think. Several factors come into play. Physical safety is a huge concern, especially when someone makes the decision to go.
“The most dangerous time for a victim is when she is leaving. The abuser is losing his control, and it’s the time when victims are most likely to be seriously hurt or killed,” says Petrushka.
There’s the emotional piece that plays a key role as well. Consider that the victim loves her partner and the couple may have children together, joint bank accounts, a house, etc., and the abuser may threaten that she will have nothing if she leaves.
Petrushka points out that there is also a long list of barriers. According to the Center for Relationship Abuse Awareness, some of the barriers include:
- Belief that the abuse is their fault
- Shame and guilt in large part due to societal victim blaming
- Cultural/religious/family pressures to stay together
- Connection to and concern for the partner’s well-being (fear that a partner will be arrested, jailed, etc., which could affect finances, kids or spur retaliation)
What role we play
“Seeking to understand the many reasons why victims stay in abusive relationships can help us to be better mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, friends and co-workers to the people in our lives that may find themselves in an abusive relationship,” says Petrushka.
Another way we can help is by taking responsibility, as a society, whether incidents are happening in the public eye or behind closed doors, to raise awareness and provide the appropriate support.
“News reporting and social media has been very important in challenging the NFL’s response to this situation and in giving victims a forum (#WhyIStayed and #WhyILeft on Facebook and Twitter) for educating the public on the complicated nature of abusive relationships,” says Petrushka.
CBS host James Brown even challenged the NFL community and men in general to address this type of violence against women and work on promoting healthy relationships.
“We can all help by recognizing the indicators and reaching out to our patients, friends and relatives when you suspect abuse. Identifying and getting victims connected to resources will help,” says Petrushka.
Be sensitive to those in the situation and choose words of support carefully when you do learn of abuse happening in a relationship, she says. For example, instead of saying, “Why don’t you just leave?” It might be more helpful to say, “I’m so sorry this is happening. Thank you for telling me. You don’t deserve to be treated this way. How can I help?”
“We need to honor the strength that is required to survive in a violent home and support those in these situaations as they determine the best course for staying safe,” says Petrushka.
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