Does celebrity image matter more than a victim's safety in domestic disputes?

By Chanelle Perrin,
Sports stars and their partners attempt to battle domestic violence secretly

Summer 2014 is coming to a close, and with every ending there is a moment of reflection. Although there were a few notable celebrity highlights throughout this summer, there were a few serious topics that were quickly passed through the media cycle, especially the stories concerning domestic violence.

Recently, the NFL suspended Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice for two games due to a domestic abuse incident between him and his wife Janay Palmer. According to Yahoo Sports, Rice allegedly knocked his then-fiancé unconscious in an elevator before dragging her body out in front of numerous security cameras. The incident took place in an Atlantic City hotel back in February. However, the footage did not surface until Memorial Day weekend. Fans instantly wanted to see a consequence that matched the severity of the crime, but many were disappointed to see that Rice would not receive any jail time but a mere slap on the wrist with a two-game suspension and $58,000 fine.

After the leaked video made the rounds online, Rice and his wife sat together for a press conference, where he inadvertently apologized for the incident. Ironically, Palmer delivered an apology of her own. "I do deeply regret the role that I played in the incident that night," she said.

Her apology, along with the NFL’s light punishment painted a bad picture to domestic abuse victims and fans everywhere.

It appeared Rice’s celebrity status lessened the repercussions of his actions. Furthermore, the situation left the remaining question, if the security footage never leaked, would Palmer have ever come forward about the incident?

Although the incident was bad enough on its own, sports commentator Stephen A. Smith added fuel to the fire with his opinions on ESPN’s First Take following the NFL’s decision.

"What I’ve tried to employ the female members of my family — some of who you all met and talked to and what have you — is that ... let’s make sure we don’t do anything to provoke wrong actions, because if I come — or somebody else come, whether it’s law enforcement officials, your brother or the fellas that you know — if we come after somebody has put their hands on you, it doesn’t negate the fact that they already put their hands on you," he said.

His comments instantly sent social media into a frenzy. Smith’s ESPN colleague, Michelle Beadle, tweeted, “So I was just forced to watch this morning's First Take. A) I'll never feel clean again B) I'm now aware that I can provoke my own beating.”

Smith’s comments did not solely infuriate female viewers, popular sports blogger Craig Calcaterra also shared his disgust via Twitter. “@stephenasmith My daughter is 10. Is it too early to have the 'how not to provoke men into beating you up' talk with her? Or should I wait?” While sports columnist Bart Hubbuch tweeted, “After perusing the @stephenasmith timeline, I now know what it's like to watch somebody drown in slow motion.” Smith’s attempt to clarify his comments only made the social media feedback worse. He eventually left his Twitter page alone and delivered a formal apology on Monday morning on First Take.

Smith’s comments held some truth, what is done cannot be undone, however, it was delivered poorly and came across very insensitive. There are times when a person can provoke a tense situation to become a physical one, but if a person has a history of being a abusive, it is very unlikely that the victim is to blame for their abuser’s actions. At no point in time does some deserve to be abused, whether the individual was provoked or not, the action is inexcuseable.

The First Take segment sparks a series of questions. Why didn’t Palmer ever come forward after being knocked unconscious? Why did she have to apologize for 'the role she played in the incident'? Did she actually provoke the situation, and even so does that mean she deserved what happened to her?

At the time of the incident she and Rice were engaged, but even after such a scary situation, they went forward with their marriage. Victims do not provoke their own abuse. However, they can end the cycle of bad behavior by coming forward and bringing awareness to the situation versus acting like it never happened.

Although it appears celebrity abusers get off scot-free, sometimes the victims are uncooperative in telling the whole story. This past week TMZ broke the news that NBA player Greg Orden was arrested for domestic violence. The free agent center allegedly punched his ex-girlfriend in the face in his mother’s home in Lawrence, Indiana.

Police officers noted that the ex had some swelling around her nose and lacerations on her face as well as there being blood on the sofa. Even with the blatant evidence the victim did not tell the police what took place, instead it was her best friend that notified officers that Oden in fact hit the victim.

"Things got out of control and I started to go after the victim," Oden said. "My relative and witness tried to hold me back, but as I swung my arms to move them out of the way, then punched the victim in the face. I was wrong and I know what has to happen."

Maybe Oden’s ex believed she was protecting him by not telling officers what happened initially, but where was her protection in the situation?

Oden appeared remorseful, however, he could have easily walked away from the situation unscathed. I’m sure Rice thought the night in that Atlantic City elevator was far behind him. But in this digital age where everything is recorded and on file, it still proves useless if the victim is not willing to come forward. It appears the value of a celebrity’s image is much higher than that of the victim’s. Maybe victims value the celebrity status of their spouses and look at it as their price to pay to live a life of luxury.

But is that life truly worth your dignity, self-worth and overall safety? The answer is no. Incidents of domestic violence can be used to educate both men and women, but how can that happen, if the victims refuse to speak up. If it wasn’t for the untimeliness of leaked security footage or concerned best friends, what could be said of Janay Palmer or Oden’s ex?

image courtesy of Scott Kirkland/INFphoto.com



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