In 2014, a security video went viral of NFL player Ray Rice knocking his then-fiancee Janay unconscious in an elevator.
At the time that the video was leaked, the two were already married. It left many people wondering why Janay would stay with Ray after what he did to her. The way she responded to the confusion made people question her even more. In a press conference, she said, “I deeply regret the role I played that night,” and later on Instagram, she added, “Just know we will continue to grow and show the world what real love is.”
At first glance of this story, I wondered why Janay apologized at all, when Ray clearly should’ve been the one making a public statement. Why didn’t she just leave him after that night in the elevator? This confusing situation started the conversation in society about why women choose to stay in abusive relationships. Many women even participated in #WhyIStayed, where they shared their own experience with abusive relationships.
The real goal of the #WhyIStayed was to inform people who may only be aware of one type of domestic violence. Too often abuse is only recognized when we see bruises on a woman’s body. Physical abuse is the easiest type of abuse to recognize because there is clear evidence we can see with our own eyes. But we aren’t just physical creatures, and our relationships are complex with multiple moving parts. There’s also the mental and the emotional parts of all of us.
What do these kinds of domestic abuse look like? We get so used to how easy physical abuse is to recognize that we stop looking for any other signs. Even women in emotionally or mentally abusive relationships can’t always recognize their own abuse. There are hundreds of articles online with titles like the one from the news outlet Bustle that’s called “Twenty-three Signs Your Partner is Mentally Abusive,” or from the organization One Love called “How to Tell if You’re in an Emotionally Abusive Relationship.” A lot of the confusion about what abuse is comes from people in society not having evidence to point at and prove abuse. Emotional and mental abuse are subtler, and in a way, more dangerous than physical abuse. Instead of skin-to-skin contact, abusers use their words or mannerisms to hurt their victims. It could be obvious like threats or insults, or it could be more manipulative like social-activist Beverly Gooden’s situation. She tweeted in 2014, “He said he would change. He promised it was the last time. I believed him. He lied. #WhyIStayed.”
Oftentimes, abusive relationships aren’t defined by one type of abuse but have multiple abusive tendencies that overlap each other. This is because human relationships aren’t simple, and neither is abuse. Looking for one type of abuse in a relationship isn’t always going to reveal what the victim is truly going through. In order to properly recognize it, relationships have to be examined from all sides: physical, mental, and emotional.
It became more clear to me as to why Janay Rice decided to apologize and defend her husband after he physically abused her when I realized women don’t always have an easy way out of an abusive relationship because of the trap that domestic violence sets. I just hope that in the future we all strive to be aware of the different types of domestic abuse, whether it be physical, mental, or emotional, because all are valid kinds of abuse that should be acknowledged.