This Is What Happens When People Say No to Violence Against Women

We wish Ray Rice had never assaulted Janay. We wish all the factors that led to his decision to be abusive and violent did not exist. We wish that all the people in Ray's life who had concerns about his behavior had done more to support him by challenging that behavior.
09/15/2014 01:52 pm ET Updated Nov 15, 2014

Something is happening. Something so many domestic violence survivors and anti-violence advocates work hard for every day. Something on a grand scale. Something that underscores the crucial importance of the Violence Against Women Act, which this week celebrates its 20th anniversary. Something inevitable, if indeed the arc of the moral universe -- not to mention the cable news -- eventually bends toward justice. And it's something driven by you -- everyday people like you and me.

When the Ray Rice domestic violence story (and video) broke -- and along with it the news of his initial two-game suspension -- you picked up the ball and ran. Hard.

You ran against domestic violence and you ran against public institutions to demand accountability and change. (Not just any public institutions, but the National Football League and the mainstream media.) When it comes to ending violence against women -- so often ignored, excused, diminished and even glamorized -- you have stood up en masse to say the most important and powerful thing you can: That is not OK. And so we say to you: Thank you.

The anniversary of VAWA in fact provides a perfect moment to acknowledge the major U.S. political institutions that have created the crucial foundations and momentum for urgent change. The adoption and resourcing of VAWA by the government has had fundamental impact on the passage of state laws, set standards in the criminal justice system and more.

The White House's efforts to address rampant sexual assault -- and resulting impunity -- on campuses have placed women's rights and college accountability atop the national agenda and laid the groundwork for concrete change.

Yet despite enormous victory and progress led by political leaders and the women's rights movement, we continue to see high levels of violence against women (VAW) in all its forms, intimate partner violence, sexual violence and more. To really put an end to VAW, we need to increase efforts in prevention. We need the government to ambitiously resource prevention programs to address the norms and forms of discrimination and inequality that drive violence against women.

But preventing VAW is not the government's task alone, nor the sole agenda of the women's rights community. Each of us has a fundamental role to play -- and we want to thank those of you who have raised your voices and become change makers, because you are making a tangible difference.

When the NFL suspended Ray Rice for only two games for violence against his then fiancée, Janay Palmer, you said: "No. Not enough. Unacceptable."

And the NFL stiffened its regulations regarding domestic violence.

Thank you.

When ESPN's Stephen Smith suggested that Janay Palmer was at least partially responsible for the incident, you said: "Blaming the victim is unacceptable. Rice is responsible for his choice. No excuses."

ESPN banned Stephen Smith for one week, he apologized publicly, and ESPN acknowledged its responsibility to do better.

Thank you.

When Fox & Friends hosts Brian Kilmeade and Steve Doocey suggested that the lesson learned here is "take the stairs," you said, "No." And Kilmeade, the next day, walked it back. (Sort of.)

Thank you.

When TMZ posted the video of Rice's actual assault, before you could say anything, the Ravens cut Ray Rice and the NFL suspended him indefinitely and are still responding to the tidal wave of outrage. Because they knew you would not let them off the hook for keeping the status quo.

Thank you.

Current NFL players joined former football players like Don McPherson, Joe Ehrmann, Byron Hurt, and others in saying that violence against women is unacceptable. President Obama and the White House stated that domestic violence is unacceptable. So did the Onion.

Nailed it. Thank you.

We wish Ray Rice had never abused or assaulted Janay. We wish all the factors that led to his decision to be abusive and violent on that day, and on any day, did not exist. We wish that all the men and others in Ray's life who had concerns about his behavior had done more to support him by challenging that behavior. Maybe, because of you, they will next time.

And the more individuals, influencers, and institutions that stand together to say, "Violence against women is unacceptable," the fewer "next times" there will be.

Phoebe Schreiner is the U.S. Country Director of Breakthrough, a global human rights organization working to make violence and discrimination against women unacceptable.

Joe Samalin is Senior Program Manager for Community Mobilization and Leadership Development with Breakthrough. He has been engaging men to prevent challenge gender-based violence since his college days for over 15 years. He has worked in New York City (his hometown), nationally across the US, and in Japan as well.

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

Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-656-HOPE for the National Sexual Assault Hotline.