Feature: Don’t watch the Ray Rice video. Don’t ask why Janay Palmer married him. Ask why anyone would blame a victim
The following post is from The Guardian. It was written by Hannah Giorgis.
By: Hannah Giorgis
Early Monday morning, TMZ released a “cleaned up” video of Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice beating Janay Palmer, his then-fiancée and current wife, in the elevator of an Atlantic City casino. The footage shows Rice, the 206lb (95kg) NFL star, delivering a blow to Palmer that slams her against the elevator railing – that knocks her unconscious. He then drags her body, limp and unresponsive, out of the elevator with a shocking lack of apparent concern.
After investigating the accusations against Rice – to which the Baltimore Ravens running back pleaded not guilty and entered an intervention program for first-time offenders to avoid a trial – NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell handed him a paltry two-game suspension in July. Thousands of people, far and wide, called into question the NFL’s judgment for such a featherweight punishment of an act so violent.
Now, within a matter of hours following the release of the tape, as those questions ratcheted up, the Ravens have terminated Rice’s contract. Strangely but not surprisingly, scrutiny has also increased around the woman’s behavior – the woman who, by the looks of that very tape, was brutalized.
That we feel entitled (and excited) to access gut-wrenching images of a woman being abused – to be entranced by the looks of domestic violence – speaks volumes not only about the man who battered her, but also about we who gaze in parasitic rapture. We click and consume, comment and carry on. What are we saying about ourselves when we place (black) women’s pain under a microscope only to better consume the full kaleidoscope of their suffering?
This broadcasting of victims’ most vulnerable moments as sites for public commentary is not new. Indeed, victims of abuse have always been forced to recount their traumas to audiences more intent on policing their victimhood than finding justice. With YouTube and TMZ and all the rest, victim blaming extends far past simply being shunned by your immediate community – it means having your most horrific memories go viral without your consent. It means having millions of people virtually dissect your wounds, not to heal them but to decide if your injuries were bad enough for everyone to feel bad for you.
When Chris Brown assaulted Rihanna in 2009, images of her bruised face surfaced and spread across the web. Despite the female pop star’s wishes that the photos not be publicized, they were used by everyone from feminist advocates trying to make a point about Brown’s violence to someone promoting the male pop star’s concert in Sweden. People couldn’t turn away; there was something addictive about her visible agony, both as misery porn and an all-purpose rhetorical tool.
We viciously ingest every vivid detail of women’s victimization, line our stomachs with their blood and tell ourselves we’re watching because we want people to be “educated”. If only people could see enough black eyes, bloodied faces and broken ribs, the theory goes. Then they would know the truth, we tell ourselves. Only then would they care.
But that deluded fetishization is every bit as untrue as it is exploitative. In reproducing victims’ trauma over and over, we only expose them to more harm. Throughout this six-week public ordeal, Janay Palmer’s pain has been minimalized, her judgment called into question. “Why did she marry him after he beat her?” reverberates around the web and in our minds, an accusation masquerading as a concern. When victims reveal their experiences (or have their experiences revealed by someone else), viewers reach for pre-packaged answers, rather than listen to victims themselves.
It is easier to believe that a woman “provoked” catastrophic violence from a supposedly otherwise peaceful man than it is to come to terms with the fact that a well-liked public figure is abusive. It is easier to conceive Palmer as an accomplice in her own beating than it is to realize that almost half of black women killed by their partners were killed as they tried to leave.
The official Baltimore Ravens account tweeted this earlier in the summer:
In case you’ve forgotten, the @Ravens wanted you to know the woman who was terribly beaten by their player is sorry. http://t.co/dKFgs12tzH
— Emily Frazier Brown (@emilybrowns) September 8, 2014
That is evidence of how far we will go to avoid demanding accountability from perpetrators as we continue to watch their victims bleed for us.
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