Ray Rice, Domestic Violence and the Importance of Specialist Refuge Services

American footballer Ray Rice has been fired from the Baltimore Ravens following gossip-site TMZ’s release of the video of Rice punching his then partner (now wife) Janay Palmer unconscious and dragging her from the lift of a hotel by the hair. This “altercation”, as the media then labelled it, was covered by mainstream press with photographic stills from the CCTV in the hotel. Yet, in the 24 hours since TMZ has released the full footage of the assault, the media and a number of pundits have chosen to proclaim their total surprise at just how violent the assault committed by Rice was. And, people are watching the video as if its part of the WWE Saturday night showcase.

Let’s be very clear here: Rice was arrested directly after the incident. It was very clear in the media reports that Palmer was punched so hard as to render her unconscious and then she dragged from the lift by her hair. Almost every article was accompanied by a still taken from the video.The police investigating arrested both Rice and Palmer.

This is the reality of domestic violence: a victim is held as responsible as the perpetrator even when the victim is knocked unconscious.  People are blithely claiming shock and surprise about a violent altercation in which all the details were made public months ago. What is the difference between watching a video and reading the words “punched unconscious and dragged from a lift by her hair”. Do people genuinely not understand those words or the images that accompanied them that they needed the video to understand the full brutality of the attack?

The Baltimore Ravens certainly seem to claim so since they waited until today to fire Ray Rice. The police and prosecutor certainly didn’t, since Rice just ended up on some domestic violence awareness program. And, the NFL certainly are pretending ignorance since they only suspended Rice for two games. The fact that the NFL had to change their policy on players involved in domestic violence in August because of protests about Rice’s lenient sentence is evidence that claims of little to no knowledge are utter horseshit – although, it’s pretty telling that many of the complaints taken seriously were about players being given longer sentences for drug use than for violence. The NFL’s policy change isn’t so much about their stance on domestic violence than it is on their stance on illegal steroid use.

This is why our specialist refuge services are so very important and must be saved. When even the police arrest women for being a victim of domestic violence, we cannot depend on the system to protect women. We need these safe spaces so that women can live free from domestic violence within a supportive environment with qualified, professional staff who understand the coercive control which is the basis of domestic violence. Giving the contract to run refuges to non-specialised services like housing associations puts the lives of women and children at risk.

We need to do better to protect victims of domestic violence and this needs to start with saving our refuges.:

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Help us save refuges, save lives

 Our world leading national network of refuges is facing an urgent crisis. Across England, more and more specialist refuges are experiencing massive funding cuts and being closed down. This crisis will cost lives.

SOS women and children turned away

We risk losing this life-saving network of services if we do not act now.

We are calling on the government to Save Our Services by committing to preserving the national network of specialist refuges by exploring a new model of national refuge funding and commissioning.

What is happening to specialist refuges across England?

SOS specialist services

Specialist refuges are services which are designed to meet the needs specifically of women domestic violence survivors and their children. The specialist and woman-only nature of services ensures that women and children feel safe, secure and supported and removes any barriers to them finding a safe place when they are escaping domestic violence. Specialist refuges help women and children escape, cope and rebuild their lives after domestic violence.

Being in a refuge might be the first safe space that children and young people may have had in a long time. Specialist provision for children and young people from refuge staff is vital as it allows them to have their health and educational needs addressed individually. Children and young people can also explore the impact of the abuse they have experienced in an understanding environment, which can minimise long term negative cognitive, behavioural and emotional effects, enabling them to reach their potential. To find out more about what a refuge is like inside take a tour around our Virtual Refuge on The Hideout website.

Our national network of specialist domestic violence refuges is in crisis like never before:

• Between 2010 and 2014 (July) the number of specialist refuge services decreased from 187 to 155.

In England, according to Council of Europe recommendations, there is a shortfall of 1,727 refuge bedspaces (32%).

• In one day in 2013, 155 women and their 103 children were turned away from refuge because they could not be accommodated.

•  48% of 167 domestic violence services in England said that they were running services without funding. Six refuge services were being run without dedicated funding and using up their reserves to keep their services going.

• Between April and July 2014, ten specialist domestic violence services across England lost funding for services they were providing. All but one of these nine services lost their services to a non-specialist service provider.

• Our world leading national network of refuges is facing an urgent crisis. Please help us Save Our Services.

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