The Ray Rice punch-out of his bride-to-be has caused a storm of outrage, shock, and, of course, general condemnation. Some in the media want NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to be fired for not taking the attack seriously (at first giving Rice a mere two-game suspension) and then claiming that he never saw the video of the actual knock-out punch thrown in a Las Vegas hotel elevator. Many simply choose not to believe his claim.
Others are seeing the assault as something indicative of professional football players and, accordingly, that something must be done by the league to change the predatory culture endemic in football. Now whether the percentage of domestic abuse cases in professional football is higher than that of the general public apparently does not enter into the debate, although one would think that it would be pertinent information. No, the verdict is already in: The NFL is a hotbed for abusive men.
A few weeks after the assault, Janay Rice married Ray. So, a woman who was knocked unconscious by her boyfriend goes ahead and marries him. And, like a dutiful wife, she is telling the media that it’s none of their business and that she and Ray are working things out. But her pleas are being ignored.
Her attitude leads to an important question: Why do so many women stay with men who abuse them? Cynics would say that Mrs. Rice stays with Ray because he is worth millions of dollars, and she is probably used to a rather luxurious lifestyle. Perhaps. But what about women who are married to, or living with, a man who is not a millionaire? Why do these poor, battered souls stay?
To find the answer, I turn to one of my favorite authors, Anthony Daniels, who writes under the pseudonym of Theodore Dalrymple. Before his retirement in 2005, he was a doctor and a psychiatrist for many years in City Hospital and Winson Green Prison, both in Birmingham, England. In both places of employment, he has counseled thousands of women who have been victims of domestic violence. In his book Life At The Bottom: The Worldview That Makes the Underclass, he notes that in his two decades of work, nearly twenty percent of the women between the ages of 16 and 50 living in the area of City Hospital have visited the emergency department due to physical abuse by their boyfriend or husband. In one five-year period, he counseled at least 2,000 men who were the perpetrators of the abuse. Those are disturbing numbers, and yet the women usually stay with their abusers, and Daniels explains why.
First, abusive men are extremely jealous. So common is this trait that most abused women believe that all men are that way. So why trade one jealous man for another? Some victims have had three or four such men in their lives. Daniels writes, “Better the abuse you know than the abuse you don’t.”
Daniels notes that this jealousy is used by the abuser to “to keep the woman utterly in thrall to him until the day she decides to leave him: for the whole focus of her life is the avoidance of his rage . . . for the jealous man wishes to occupy his lover’s every thought, and there is no more effective method of achieving this than his arbitrary terrorism.” If a woman finally gets the courage to leave, the perpetrator usually decides that he was too soft and will treat his next partner with even greater terror.
Second, many victims live in very dangerous neighborhoods. A woman by herself is considered easy prey. Without a protector, even a violent one, these women would find themselves victims of other dangerous men. Being “owned” by a violent man guarantees some degree of safety.
Third, in a perverse manner of thinking, many women will stay with an abuser because she believes his violence is a sign of his commitment toward her. Daniels explains:
She imagines–falsely–that a punch in the face or a hand round the throat is at least a sign of his continued interest in her, the only sign other than sexual intercourse she is ever likely to receive in that regard. In the absence of a marriage ceremony, a black eye is his promissory note to love, honor, cherish, and protect.
Daniels has counseled many women who, when they get involved with a non-violent man, find the experience uncomfortable and confusing. Daniels writes, “Many of my violently abused women patients have told me that they find non-violent men intolerably indifferent and emotionally distant, rage being the only emotion they’ve ever seen a man express.”
Now we must keep in mind that Daniels dealt with the underclass of British society. Had he worked in a middle or upperclass neighborhood, the numbers of victims and perpetrators would undoubtedly be significantly lower. But his analysis of why some women stay with abusers appears to have validity.
When I volunteered at a pregnancy center, my colleagues and I would often marvel at how a young woman with obvious intelligence could get involved with a moronic, vulgar man. Our conclusion was always the same: Men our pigs, and women are stupid. Of course, that’s a terrible generalization, but at the pregnancy center, it was indisputable dogma. How sad and how tragic.