For the past week I have been flooded with calls and questions concerning Ray Rice, the former NFL player who was suspended indefinitely by the league, with regard to domestic violence. The media has spent hundreds of hours discussing the ins and outs of the case and throughout the United States, people are speculating as to what went on in the relationship between Ray and Janay Rice. One underlying theme seems to emerge among the people I have spoken with this past week — the belief that such incidents do not regularly happen in the Jewish community.
Perhaps there is some truth to that belief, but only if you define domestic violence as just an act of physical aggression, where, in this case, a woman was beaten unconscious and dragged from an elevator. However, in reality, such an incident is the culmination of a systematic use of tactics to gain power and control over the victim. Relationships do not start out as physically abusive. No one would return for a second date, if physically assaulted on the first one.
The process is insidious and despite desperate attempts, the victim is unable to stop the abuser. The abuse may begin with name-calling, insults, and other forms of verbal abuse and progress to behaviors of isolationism, threats, intimidation, and financial control. Constant manipulation leaves the victim “walking on eggshells.” As a result, it is not uncommon to see the victim take responsibility for the abuser’s actions either because she believes she is to blame or to keep a sense of calm in the relationship. Additionally, while all abusive relationships have issues of power and control, not all will escalate to active physical violence. An abusive relationship can, and often does, exist without physical abuse.
Many have asked the question: why not simply leave the abuser? It is not easy for victims to free themselves of the situation. There are many practical issues that may stop them. The notion of leaving is daunting and overwhelming. Very often, the victim does not have the financial ability to leave. At other times, family issues and legal issues are too numerous to overcome. Lastly, the great paralyzer, fear! Fear of the abuser and fear of the unknown.
So how is Ray Rice a Jewish concern? We do not know what steps, if any, Janay Rice may have taken to reach out to friends and family. Did they miss the signs? Was she educated as to what constitutes a healthy relationship? Similarly, what is the role of the Jewish community in helping victims? Have we tried to educate ourselves and our children about healthy versus abusive relationships? Do we know how to help someone who reaches out to us to help break the pattern of abuse?
Fortunately, the MetroWest community has the Rachel Coalition, a division of Jewish Family Service of MetroWest. Each day, Rachel Coalition works to address the therapeutic and concrete needs of adults and children in highly conflicted or abusive relationships. Additionally, Rachel Coalition offers a wide range of educational programs to community groups, including the interactive presentation, “In Her Shoes.” Rachel Coalition offers consultation, validation, and connections to various community and government resources for victims of domestic violence and their families.
Speak up and speak out! When we actively affirm that domestic abuse, in all of its forms, is wrong and unacceptable to us, we can help end the cycle both in the Jewish community and beyond.