I have to be totally honest- when I heard about Janay Rice’s decision to stay with and marry Ray Rice, after being brutally knocked unconscious by him and then dragged from the elevator without a hint of remorse- I had a momentary feeling of being angry with her. Of course I was outraged and furious at him, but I felt sad, angry, and worried about what she was modeling for other young women. That “stand by your man” mentality was sending the wrong message. Was she saying that what he did was acceptable? Was she saying that despite the fact that he could have killed her, it wasn’t a deal breaker in their relationship? I am willing to bet that I was not the only person to have that reaction. And then I put my clinical hat back on and looked at through a more educated, less emotional lens. I also processed it with my client, Janet Blackburn, who has survived the death of her 43 year old sister, Gail Pumphrey and her sister’s three children, David Brockdorff (12), Megan Brockdorff (10) and Brandon Brockdorff (7). An entire family murdered by her sister’s ex-husband, David Brockdorff. Gail had found the courage and the strength to extricate herself from an abusive marriage, but was ultimately unable to escape her ex-husband’s sociopathic rage.
I want to share Janet’s insights about Janay Rice and all women who choose to stay in abusive relationships: (Janet has given me permission to share her name and the name of her family members.)
‘We can’t blame the victim for what has happened to her. She didn’t cause the violence and she can’t stop it. Only the abuser can truly stop the violence. She is the best judge of her situation and knows what is best for herself and her children. She is a survivor and will weigh the risks of staying and leaving. Leaving doesn’t necessarily end the abuse and the risk of danger is greater when she leaves. The majority of women who are killed in domestic violence homicides are murdered after they leave or in the process of leaving their abuser. Don’t judge her. We can’t understand the overwhelming fear and stress that she lives with day in and day out. Be supportive and do whatever you can to help keep her and her children safe.’
I was humbled by Janet’s wisdom. She is right. There is still an insidious tendency to blame the victims, to lose sight of how terrorized they are and the impact that terror has on their self-esteem and sense of disempowerment. Our job, both professionally and personally, is to listen with compassion and without judgment, to focus on safety planning, assess for lethality, educate and raise awareness, provide resources for comfort, empowerment, financial independence, and supportive psychotherapy. Attempts to leave an abuser can evoke deadly rage in them. It is an extremely sensitive issue that has to be handled strategically and with professional guidance.
Janet continues to have moments of struggling, and she continues to heal. After years of deep grief and the profound sense that she had been emotionally murdered as well, Janet has entered a place of post-traumatic growth. She is committed to honoring and keeping alive her family’s memory by getting legislation passed, raising awareness, and inspiring other survivors. Gentle, humble, softspoken, and unassuming, yet extremely bright and articulate, Janet has found the courage to speak out and has even spoken publicly with the Vice President of the United States. She has touched many lives and will continue to make a difference. It is my fervent hope and prayer that one day Janay Rice and other women like her will be safe enough to follow in Janet’s footsteps.
What has been your experience working with women who’ve suffered from domestic abuse, and what have you learned?