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Ray Rice Video Sets Off Barrage Of Conversations


Next we'll hear some of the intense, personal conversations spurred by video of NFL player Ray Rice. Many people relate to the predicament of Janay Rice, who was shown on video as Rice slams her to an elevator floor. After the incident, she married the football player. And she still supports him, even after he was suspended. Yesterday, she criticized the media, saying it's horrible, quote, "to make us relive a moment in our lives that we regret every day." This prompts an uncomfortable question, why did she stay with him? We do not know the full answer. Some commentators have said ferociously that no one should dare ask this question, that merely asking is blaming the victim. But this is also a genuine question that many people have faced in their own lives. Victims of domestic abuse have been saying a lot on social media using hashtags like #WhyIStayed and #WhyILeft, and NPR's Michel Martin has been following those conversations. She's in our studios. Good morning, Michel.

MICHEL MARTIN, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: What are people saying?

MARTIN: Well, first, I think it started as a - in the way that social media conversations often do, either because people are frustrated that the way something is being discussed in other forms doesn't ring true to them, or because they just feel they have something to add. And they want to tell their stories. Now, the hashtag is being attributed to a woman named Beverly Gooden, and that's - and she says that's why she started it - because these conversations didn't ring true to her.

INSKEEP: The why I stayed hashtag?

MARTIN: Yes. And she wanted to share her experience. But since then, many, many other people have added their stories. For example, @MasterPiece83 tweeted, #WhyIStayed because I wanted my son to have a father, #WhyILeft because I wanted my son to have a mother.


MARTIN: @GoddessRay tweeted, #WhyIStayed we were only married for a month when he hit me for the first time. I had a huge wedding. I thought, what would people say if I leave now?

INSKEEP: Wow, very...

MARTIN: And I have to tell you that these conversations are coming from people from all different backgrounds, all different demographic groups, at least judging from their profiles.

INSKEEP: Right. Very, very brief comments there, and yet, really deep stories and really profound questions, obviously, that people faced. And I understand you reached out to some people and asked them a little more.

MARTIN: We did. We reached out to a young woman named Lamonica (ph), and we're using her first name only because saying more, giving more personally identifying details, would also effectively identify her former husband, which is something she hasn't done, even though she's posted about their marriage on Twitter. Let me just say, we do know that she is a real person, and she exists. And this is what she told us.

LAMONICA: I thought I could fix it. I thought that, as a wife, it was my duty to do all that I could to protect the marriage. I think I probably misunderstood the context of God hating divorce. I thought that, you know, because nobody is perfect - I did focus a lot on my own shortcomings and tried to use that almost as an excuse that, you know, well, I have things I need to work on as well, and he didn't leave me. So I shouldn't leave him.

MARTIN: So Steve, a couple things I want to flag here. I mean, you're hearing that this is a complex process. You know, this is not an event; this is a process. The other thing that I want to flag for you is that I asked her if she ever thought to get other people involved, including law enforcement. I asked her, did you ever call the police? And she said no because she feared her husband would lose his job and effectively lose his career and become unemployable. And I want to note that because domestic violence, or what researchers call intimate partner violence...


MARTIN: According to the numbers, it affects, you know, thousands and thousands of people. But how it affects them or how they may think it will affect them may differ. We know, for example, that a criminal record can have far direr consequences for black men's employment than for white men's employment.

INSKEEP: Meaning that if you have a criminal conviction and you're black, you're just not going to get a job or you're going to have great trouble getting a job?

MARTIN: Yes, far more likely that you'll have difficulty with employment than a white person - a similarly situated white person would. And so that could factor into the decisions that people make around how to deal with this and we talked to Gail Garfield about that. She's a sociologist who teaches at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City. She's written extensively about race and gender and violence, and this is what she told us.

GAIL GARFIELD: One of the things of that black women, whether consciously or unconsciously, they have to negotiate whether or not they will seek public help. Because the implications of them going outside of the home for help carries with it a whole host of consequences that may be intended or unintended. If they're poor, living in public housing - in public housing, if you've been arrested and convicted, you can lose your housing.

MARTIN: So you can see, Steve, why this whole question of the sanction is relevant and why it's not a simple question for many people.

INSKEEP: And of course, some of these people you're talking to who wrote about Why I Stayed ultimately did leave, but they stayed for a while and were getting a sense of why - their interests are mixed with the spouse's interest. You can't hurt them without hurting themselves. And it's not just African-American women in this situation.

MARTIN: No, no. Absolutely not. And one of the things that's become clear over the course of this - and one of the things that I think might have been revealed over the course of these conversations is that this is a part of many people's life experience and there are no boundaries.

This is author Leslie Morgan Steiner - she and her former husband both had MBA's, they both attended Ivy League schools and in recent years, she's delivered a widely viewed lecture of so-called TED talk about being a victim of domestic violence. This is what she said.

LESLIE MORGAN STEINER: We victims - we feel really sorry for our abusers - believe it or not. And I felt so sorry for my husband from the very beginning. He'd had a terrible childhood. He'd been abused as a kid. And even though he was one of the smartest, funniest, most talented men I've ever known, I felt the need to protect him. And I think that's a very big red flag, first of all, but it also explains why I didn't want to hurt him. I didn't want any harm to come to him. I actually still feel that today. He suffered a lot. But I think he should've been held responsible for what he did.

MARTIN: It's important to note, Steve, here - this was a woman who was nearly killed by her husband. And one of the reasons that she's been so public about this in recent years, writing a book called "Crazy Love," for example, is that she wants people to know that this is a phenomenon that can affect anybody.

INSKEEP: You realize some spouses just really don't deserve the kind of people that they're with - I mean, it's remarkable that people would reach out, even to someone who's abusing them in that way, and think of them and feel for them in that way.

MARTIN: Well, let me leave you just with one final thought here, Steve. According to the Centers for Disease Control, almost a third of American women have experienced some form of physical violence by an intimate partner over the course of their lifetime. The numbers are particularly high for Native American women and women of multiracial backgrounds. So as you can tell, it's a very interesting and complex question for them; their numbers are actually far higher.

But let me leave you on this positive note since we've been talking about something that's very serious and disturbing. Since 2003 - this is according to the Justice Department's statistics - the rate of number of incidents of reported incidents of domestic violence - that's nonfatal domestic violence, I have to say - have actually declined about 60 percent. So perhaps, you know, all the awareness, all the kinds of public conversations that we've been having in recent years, including this most recent one, might be having an effect.

INSKEEP: I wonder if this can be helpful because this is such a private thing. This is probably something - you might be in a difficult situation and not tell anyone around you. But this kind of public discussion prompts people to think about their situation in a different way.

MARTIN: Well, a lot of things have happened in recent years. There's been a lot more public awareness, a lot more discussion. A number of the people that we talked to - in fact, for example, Leslie Morgan Steiner - her relationship happened almost 20 years ago and she said at the time, she didn't even realize it was wrong. She didn't even realize that what was happening to her was wrong. Since then, a lot of training has gone into the way law enforcement responds to these issues, the way a lot of different important groups respond to these issues. And that seems to be having an effect.

INSKEEP: Michel, thanks for asking the question and for bringing us some of the answers.

MARTIN: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Michel Martin.


INSKEEP: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.
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