As an ER doctor who has treated and advocated for victims of domestic violence for over 20 year I have asked myself: Why now? Why are we reacting to a video as opposed to the act of partner violence? I was horrified by the first video, showing Ray Rice dragging his girlfriend's unconscious body out of an elevator!
At that time, before we saw this recent video, people should have been just as appalled, outraged and speaking out this way. And the NFL should have handed down these sanctions right from the beginning. I remember thinking the initial NFL penalty of a two-game suspension, which was less than for a drug offense, seemed so trivial. I felt it spoke volumes on their position of violence against women.
Who cares about this recent video! It is as if we are saying just because we hadn't actually seen it before, it wasn't that bad, or perhaps it might not have really happened, or there might have been some explanation. There is no excuse or explanation for domestic violence. That attitude has prevailed for centuries, that same archaic belief that victims somehow bring it upon themselves. Or it was a momentary lapse of control. Or he must not be that bad because why would she stay?
These are all the myths and misconceptions about domestic violence that we as a society are trying to fool ourselves about. I changed careers during my residency, switching from urology to emergency medicine, because I wanted to make a difference in the lives of women I saw being abused at the hands of men they loved.
Yes, they love these men, at least in the beginning, because no relationship starts with violence. Many victims have told me that early on they had mistaken the critical warning signs of an abusive relationship, things such as obsessive jealousy or possessiveness, as "romantic or a sign of how much he must love me." And early on in these violent relationships many of the victims just want the violence to end, not the relationship. They often feel responsible or are made to feel that way by the abuser. Victims desperately try to change their behavior, in the beginning thinking, "If I could just do things differently, the abuse wouldn't have happened." In fact, this is what the abuser tells them; it is part of the psychological abuse, which slowly chips away at the victim's self-esteem. The abuse is not a momentary lapse of control; in fact it is part of a calculated cycle of power and control exerted over the victim by the abuser. The abuser, during what is called a "honeymoon phase" will act remorseful and beg to be forgiven promising it will never happen again. But sadly, it always does.
So why does she stay? There are many reasons. If children are involved, she may do it to help protect them. She often has to stay because the abuser early in the relationship has isolated her from her friends, family or another support systems she had previously had. This again is part of the psychological abuse that helps him maintain control. She has nowhere else to go or no one else to turn to. And the abuser makes sure with a form of economic abuse that she has no money or means to get out on her own.
Another misconception is that women stay because they want to or it really isn't that bad. Not true. The most important reason these victims seem to they stay is because they have to be ready, they need a fail-safe plan. Trying to leave these abusive relationships is the most dangerous time in these relationships. This is when the abuser realizes he is starting to lose control, and this is when the violence escalates in his attempt to keep it. We see it in the news or we read about it in the papers; this is when the stalkings and murders occur.
And if you think this could not happen to your daughter, your sister or your friend, or even yourself... think again. Domestic violence crosses all socioeconomic and racial groups. Another misconception, "it doesn't happen in our community" -- no group is immune. I have seen indigent uneducated women come into the ER beaten up as well as educated professionals, physicians and lawyers who have been victims. One in three of us may become a victim in our lifetime.
I unfortunately have seen it firsthand in the ER or on the way to the morgue and thought, "There but for the grace of God go I." Therefore, for me and for the millions of women who have suffered at the hands of "loved ones" from intimate partner violence, this video is superfluous. It tragically happens every day in this country, whether or not we see it documented in video.
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) for the National Domestic Violence Hotline.
After her residency Dr. Vinocur started serving on the State of Maryland Family Violence Task Force, she was the only physician serving on another board to help create a pilot program for the state to deal with domestic violence in the ER. She has lectured doctors and nurses all over the state about recognizing the signs of domestic violence. She served on the American College of Emergency Physicians' National Violence Prevention Committee, as well as serving on the first advisory board and eventually chairing one of the first faith-based domestic violence program in the country for the Jewish community called CHANA. She has lobbied the Maryland state legislature for laws to help protect victims and eventually served on the board of the Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence. She received an award from the Maryland Chapter of the American College of Emergency Physicians for her service to victims of domestic violence.