09/12/2014 12:50 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Janay Palmer Rice: An Abuse Victim Taking the Blame


When the domestic abuse story of Ray Rice and Janay Palmer first surfaced this summer, someone on the Baltimore Ravens' Twitter feed decided it was a good idea to suggest that maybe Janay, Rice's then-fiancee and now his wife, should take some of the blame. In a now deleted tweet, that can still be seen because it was retweeted by so many, the Ravens said:

Of course. Who wouldn't think that a woman much smaller than a professional football player who waves her arm at him in annoyance deserves to be punched in the face, beaten in fact and lie unconscious in the doorway of an elevator, had a role in her own assault. Her role? Palmer's only role was being in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong person. Yet someone at the Ravens decided that Palmer had to pay a price by being a person who could help deflect the negative attention from her husband, the money-making machine.

So often, when a man physically assaults his partner there are plenty of people around to make it seem like two people are at fault. Uber-conservative doctor turned wannabe politician Ben Carson is urging that we not judge Ray Rice too harshly because, and I'm paraphrasing here, it takes two to tango. So Palmer is paying the additional price of not just being the victim, but also of being her own perpetrator. It's something I know when I see it, because I lived it.

When I was too young to know better, I married a man who I knew had a temper. He flew into rages over nothing and could become physically violent at the drop of a hat, especially if he'd been drinking. I don't even remember what he was angry about the night he pushed me down two flights of stairs at the small town radio station where I worked. I don't know why he then decided to kick a huge hole in the wall. What I do know is that I was fired from that job because I had allowed him into the building to pick me up from my late night shift to drive me home. I was battered, bruised and feared for my life. What I do know is that my employers did not care whether I was safe or not, whether I'd been seriously hurt. Now I was without a job because of my "lack of judgment" for allowing him to come in to the radio station, rather than having him wait outside. And I had no income of my own to allow me to leave our apartment.

I was the one who was punished, not the man who was then, but no longer is, my husband.

I stayed partly because I had no money to go anywhere else, but I also thought he would change. I couldn't believe that anyone who claimed to love me would do such a thing. Or do it more than once. And I was embarrassed to have any one of my friends or family know what had happened.

My career was going better than his. I started making more money. I had more respect in our small, professional community. The price I paid for that was that he became angrier and more violent and abusive. Until one night, he pulled a butcher knife on me as I said I was leaving for good, having had enough of the angry eruptions, making excuses for him and wondering when he would hurt me again or kill me.

There's a lot of chatter online with the hashtags #whyIstayed and #whyIleft as women share their stories of abuse. Some people in the conversation are saying that those who are critical of Janay for staying in her marriage with her abuser -- because that is what Rice is -- claim that we are victim-blaming her and not being supportive or understanding of another couple's marriage.

But it's the Ravens, and the NFL, that started the victim-blaming of Palmer when they broadcast that now-deleted tweet. Even if she said those words, they didn't come from her own social media platform, but from the organization trying to protect its brand and its money. That is the price Janay Palmer is paying -- being the person who takes the spotlight off her abuser. Palmer probably won't fully realize that until the next time we see a sports franchise try to make a spouse or girlfriend take some of the heat for the criminal behavior of one of its stars.

Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) for the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

Joanne Bamberger is an independent journalist and journalism entrepreneur who is also the author of the book Mothers of Intention: How Women and Social Media are Revolutionizing Politics in America. She is the founder and publisher of the The Broad Side, a digital magazine of the best women's commentary on the web. You can find her on Twitter at @jlcbamberger. Also, follow The Broad Side on Twitter at @The_Broad_Side and on Facebook!