The video of NFL player Ray Rice punching his girlfriend so ferociously that she loses consciousness — which led to Rice’s firing Monday from the Baltimore Ravens — leaves little room for debate about who shoulders blame for the assault.
But Janay Rice, the victim who is now the athlete’s wife, has implicated others, including herself and the media, for her husband’s troubles.
“No one knows the pain” the media have caused her family, Janay posted on her Instagram account Tuesday, “to take something away from the man I love that he has worked his ass [off] for all his life just to gain ratings is horrific.”
Janay Rice had apologized in a May 23 press conference convened by the Ravens for her “role in that night” of the assault, while Ray Rice apologized at that time for “the situation my wife and I were in” when they got into an altercation at an Atlantic City casino in February.
Specialists in responding to and preventing domestic violence expressed little surprise at Janay’s reactions, saying they are common among abuse victims.
“This is a demonstration of power and control that an abuser has over someone,” said Ruth Glenn, interim executive director of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. “Of course, she’s going to apologize. That’s the dynamic for domestic violence — that the victim shares the blame.”
Ray Rice’s abnegation of full responsibility also fits the profile of those who engage in abuse, specialists said. Such people, usually men but sometimes women, tend to be narcissistic, blaming other people for their own negative actions.
“They overevaluate what they’re contributing to the relationship and underevaluate what they get out of it,” said psychologist David Adams, codirector of Emerge, one of 15 certified programs to treat domestic violence perpetrators in Massachusetts. “Ray Rice may see himself as providing a lot of money, and he puts a lot of stock in that, while also feeling like he’s the real victim.”
While the video showed Janay Rice slapping Ray Rice lightly before he landed his punch, prosecutors dropped assault charges against her. Ultimately, domestic abuse isn’t just about taking a swipe in the heat of an argument, domestic violence counselors say.
“It’s about power and control over a person,” said Laura Van Zandt, executive director of REACH, a Boston nonprofit that provides safety and support to domestic violence victims. “Abusers lower a victim’s self-esteem, cut her off from family and friends, and exert control over finances.”
Victims are often psychologically tormented by their abusers before physical violence occurs.
“Victims do not enter these relationships because they want to be abused,” Glenn said. “They get into relationships because they love that person and usually believe they can fix the situation.”
Specialists said punishments meted out by judges or prosecutors in plea deals often do more harm than good. Rice avoided jail time, and agreed to enter an anger management program, which Adams said can prove counterproductive.
“Anger management focuses on losing control, but domestic violence is really about maintaining control,” he said.
Many abusers leave anger management classes with a better understanding of triggers that may set them off — a sarcastic tone, or a rehashing of the past directed at them by their partner — which allows them to lay blame on the victim, rather than take responsibility for their actions. Anger management classes typically last 10 weeks.
A 2004 study by the state’s Office of the Commissioner of Probation found that abusers who completed certified batterer intervention programs, such as those run by Emerge, were significantly less likely to commit another violent offense or have a restraining order issued against them compared with those who completed anger management programs.
The Emerge program lasts 40 weeks, with two-hour group therapy sessions each week. Men who attend the program learn how to empathize and become better listeners. They are not allowed to minimize their abusive behavior or assign blame to their victim. A 12-week progress report is sent to victims letting them know whether the therapy is helping — or whether they’re likely to be victims again if they stay in the relationship.