As the media continues to pounce on the story of Ray Rice’s elevator assault on his fiancee last February, I wonder why there is no background story on who this woman is and why she married Rice after that knockout punch and rag doll drag that has the rest of us so appalled. It turns out that both Janay Palmer and Ray Rice were arrested on Feb 15, 2014 and charged with mutual assault at the Revel Casino. A month later, Rice alone was indicted by a grand jury for 3rd degree aggravated assault, the penalty for which is a possible 3-5 years in jail and a fine of $15,000. Janay Palmer married her assailant one day after this indictment.
The couple first met when Janay was 16 but started dating seriously in 2008, becoming engaged in 2012, months before their daughter Rayven was born. But Back in 2010, Janay was arrested for stealing a dress from a shopping center - a puzzling event given that she was already living with a star football player. Most of us assume that battered women are people without agency, women whose domestic lives are so complicated and fragile that they see no other options open to them. This case seems to fall into another category - a young woman whose batterer was her live-in multi-millionaire fiance and the father of her child. Had she decided to walk out after the knockout, she and her child would undoubtedly have remained financially secure for the foreseeable future. On the other hand, had she testified against Rice, he might have gone to jail or had his contract terminated even sooner than it eventually was. Marrying Rice was clearly a hedge against a possible big financial loss. Was Palmer given or promised a large monetary inducement to marry Rice immediately? Does that in any way color the way we consider her decision to marry the man who not only brutalized her but displayed no concern for her medical condition after she was unconscious?
Is the story of Ray Rice just one of another thuggish athlete who beats up on women? Or are the larger issues the huge amounts of money paid to athletes who live outside the moral constraints of most of us; the huge amounts of money made by owners of teams who try their best to ignore the players’ behavior; the refusal of fans to boycott over-priced athletic events and their concomitant merchandising; our squeamishness at criticizing women who have the wherewithal to make other choices but prefer to live and procreate with violent men whose actions are clearly mitigated by their enormous wealth. In the elevator incident, Rice’s casual indifference to his prostrate fiancee suggests that the odds are great that Janay had been punched or otherwise abused before and that neither she nor Rice was as shocked as we are. Though her sin of venality is not as great as the crime of assault, knowingly choosing to marry a wife-beater makes her complicit when she once again becomes his victim.
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