Belfast Telegraph

Ray Rice's defenders have dealt another blow to domestic abuse victims

By Lindy McDowell

Does it make a victim of domestic abuse any less of a victim if she denies she is a victim, insists her battering is a private matter and suggests others should keep their noses out? In the couple of weeks I've just spent in America, one story above all others has dominated both news and sports headlines.

It's the case of NFL footballer Ray Rice, seen punching the living daylights out of his then fiancee Janay Palmer in video footage that has been viewed by millions.

The focus of the media coverage debate has been on the NFL's response to the attack.

Initially, disgracefully, Rice was suspended for a mere couple of games. Only lately has it become clear that the video of the incident had been sent to the NFL before it made this decision. So, no excuses, you would think, for treating it as some trivial incident.

In a world where we've become used to powerful institutions attempting to cover abuse scandals we probably shouldn't be all that surprised that the NFL thought it might be possible to brush this one under the radar.

They thought wrong. The NFL and its leadership are now the central focus of the controversy with American TV channels convulsing over who knew what, who to blame and who, if anybody, should be booted out on account of it.

Perhaps it is to be expected that the debate should centre so much on the role played by a mega rich sports body. Money talks. The NFL boss alone is on $44m (£26.8m) per annum.

But the twist in this tale which I think is every bit as disturbing, has been the response of thousands of fans, including many, many women, who have backed Rice and reiterated his victim's plea that the matter should be regarded as private.

In the CCTV video, Rice and his girlfriend are seen arguing as they enter a public lift. She lunges at him. He punches her. Really, really hard. She goes down, knocked out cold.

The doors open and big man Rice is then seen manhandling the young woman's motionless body out of the lift like she's a sack of rubbish. It's not just the violence that shocks. It's the man's casual contempt for the girl.

But what of the victim herself? How did Rice's former fiancee Janay later respond to her partner's beating?

Reader, she married him.

Not only that but she released a statement basically saying that being beaten senseless by your partner is a "private" matter.

"To make us relive a moment in our lives that we regret every day is a horrible thing," she said.

What keeps her with such a brute, God knows? Belief that he means it when he says he'll never do it again? Blind love? Reluctance to forego the footballer's wife lifestyle? Keeping the family together for the sake of their little girl? Who can say?

Janay at least has the excuse that victims of abuse (male as well as female) often find it very hard to walk away.

But this doesn't hold for Rice's other defenders. And there are lamentably legions of them. Fans have shown up at games wearing shirts newly decorated with his name and number.

They parrot Janay Rice's line that what happened was a private thing between the couple. Would it still have been a private matter if he'd killed her or left her permanently disabled?

Supporters say he has merely "made a mistake" but he will, of course, "learn from it". And meantime, move along everybody, nothing to see here.

What is wrong with these people?

Never mind the self-interest reflex of the NFL, what sort of message does it send to all the other beaten, anonymous victims of domestic violence when so many women in particular, voice their support for the twisted concept of "private" abuse? It is colluding with the culprit to attempt to downplay the seriousness of what Rice did.

And those shirts of shame they're wearing to make their point – they're accessories to a crime.

Calling fowl on all the sugary sayings

It's always wrong to stereotype, but Americans do seem to have a particular fondness for the excessively saccharine, inspirational message.

Everywhere you look – especially if they're trying to flog you something – there's that added touch of verbal naffery. "We learn the rope of life by untying its knots." That sort of pious guff.

But there is the odd flash of humour, too, such as this bit of graffiti I noticed. "I dream of a less judgemental world. A world where one day a chicken can cross a road without having its motives questioned."

Less hero worship from politicians' wives

Political party conference season – so brace yourself for the annual slew of pictures of leaders' wives gazing adoringly upon their menfolk. Or in the case of Justine Miliband staring quizzically at her Ed.

Why do they think this pouting, posturing stuff impresses the voters? The odd glimpse of a bit of eye-rolling from the political spouse would surely come across as a tad more real.

It will be interesting to see if Mrs Ukip goes for the pose during the Farage party conference. Although, true, Nigel does come across as sufficiently secure in the self-worship department to negate the need for a drooling wife gazing at him like a slimmer eyeing up a cronut.

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