Thursday, September 18, 2014

I am Janay Rice

In the past week, I  have written two drafts of something I thought I wanted to say about being the survivor of domestic abuse, about acknowledging myself as Janay Rice.

It also seemed like I could not say what I wanted to say because my children are still alive, because, because, because the words may seem opportunistic, jumping on the reporting bandwagon of all the other articles written, or because it is a shame I still carry.

My story is not unlike that of other women.

Abusers of any sort - rapists, child murders, physical abusers, sexual abusers, emotional abusers, financial abusers - never come with a sign on at the first date saying that you will experience all those things dating, courting, or being married to them.  These were things that happened to me in my life.

The writer, teacher, scholar in me sought a definition.  I went to the Centers for Disease Control who bring the definition more closely to what it is - intimate partner violence.

It was against a backdrop of experiencing being the preacher's daughter and boldly divorcing  my husband after one year of marriage when I thought I would never talk about it again.  It only happened once, him putting his hands on me, but I was young and fierce and determined that would not be my fate, I chase him out of our home, immediately moved, and filed for divorce.  He has since apologized for his youthful explosion and reconciled with the beautiful son we created and whose life he missed out on.

Fast forward five years, I'd been happily single and celibate (for all the saved folks who read this).  I remarried only to marry a nightmare.  We did all the right things, courted, did not engage in sexual activity, talked about our lives, he met my sons, we married.  Shortly thereafter, the power struggle, control and demands for  my "submission" as a "Christian wife" ensued to the degree of him raping me, hurting my sons, locking us out of our home, and me fleeing to another state. He has never met the beautiful son we created and I don't know if he is dead or alive.

When the story of Janay Rice and Abuse Victim Self-Blame and all the other abuse victims surfaced, the painful memories flooded back, the shame I carry in Christendom of being twice divorced and of not being "submissive" enough that I "caused my husband" to do those things to me.  Yes, those were real comments and thoughts presented to me when at 30 years old I once again found myself being a single (and yes, celibate) mother of sons.

Black women are not afforded the same concessions or support when trying to leave abusive relationships.

I was fortunate in both instances to be independently financially secure.  I had the resources to start over and never received public aid, lived without child support, never relied on government assistance, and was educated enough to be able to work full-time in a promising field.

All women of domestic violence are not able to do that, especially stay-at-home mothers who are most vulnerable to the financial abuse that Kerry Washington and the Purple Purse Program is advocating.

Financial abuse is one of the most often experienced by women in middle-to-upper income households where the husband is making the majority of the income, or where the family is in a conservative Christian household that demands the woman's submission.  This type of abuse is even more prevalent if there are young children that she is taking care of and also as a result of the economic recession.

Black women also are the least heard voices in reporting sexual or physical abuse.  Even reporting to the police is problematic, like Daniel Holtzclaw and the Police Sexual Assault of Black Women story has revealed. It is always assumed that we are sexually wanton, that we are "asking for it" simply because of the natural sway of our hips when we walk. Even the 2008/2009 story of a little 12 year old girl assaulted by 5 Texas plainclothes police and accused of being  prostitute is another scar black women bear in terms of our personhood. It has even reached into Hollywood with the recent reporting of the 12 Years A Slave actress handcuffed and accused of being a prostitute while she was with her husband.  These erode the black woman's trust to seek authorities to help her escape a domestic violence situation.  The police, as we've seen with Ferguson, are not exactly advocates for black people, period.

The church has often failed in this area, black and white congregations, and some black church turn a blind eye to the conversation.  Black women that are married victims are often shamed for not being sexy enough, for not praying enough, for not fasting enough, for not doing whatever it is - putting his purple shirt in the dry cleaners, for example - that would set him off in a rage that results in her further shame.

When I was seeking help, I was once told to go to a shelter but that I would be separated from my children.

I once went to a pastor and a couple deacons who overheard the conversation went and told my husband, who promptly gave me a tongue lashing.

Terry Loving in her blog, Spiritual Side of Domestic Violence, has been writing and shedding light on this from the black woman's perspective.  It is comforting, after years of trying to have something more than "I will pray for you sister," to finally have the issue discussed in the broader church.  Praying will not stop the partner from engaging in the power, control, manipulation, and coercion that is the daily experience of abuse victims.

There are some, however, who have been writing and researching the unique aspect of intimate partner violence in the black community.  Lynda Marie Jordan's white paper is one such reporting that reaches beyond the sensational headlines and breaks out the issue as it relates to people of color.

The issues of domestic violence reach into every part of the country regardless of race, creed, religion, and income.  It is so prevalent that even the Asian community has pulled back the veil of this secret occurrence and allowed a glimpse into what these women experience.

Power and control, these are the weapons of any type of violence but especially domestic violence upon women (and yes, sometimes men) who are in a vulnerable position.

I have met with and spoken to women whose abusive husband's have done horrible things to them from rape to financial ruin to verbal assaults in front of friends to reading their journals to sabotaging their career options.

Like other women and survivors, I take moments to pull back the veil and reveal a painful experience not for sympathy but as an advocate and activist.

Leaving is not always possible, some women reconcile and try to appease their partner until their children are older or until resources are available for them to leave.  Janay Rice, in her private instagram that went public,  blasting the media was in classic abuser mode to try to keep peace and calm in her home.  Her husband was physically abusive and none of us know what is happening behind closed doors now that he has lost his job with the NFL and his lucrative endorsement deals.  He, like all abusers, is surely blaming her for his actions.

The hashtag campaign of #WhyIStayed had story after story of the tough choices for survival women had to make.  For black and Hispanic (and now, Asian) women, the choice for self-advocacy is not always an easy one, the road is not always wide open to safety.

In this time in America when there is a culture class and a hurricane of issues that vye for media attention, the issue of domestic violence is one of the most prevalent and far reaching.

It is courageous to stand up and speak out.

There are more than one Janay Rice's out there and I hope that those voices will be heard.

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