It is actually misunderstanding the Janay Palmer story. Ray Rice is the disgraced and now unemployed abuser of Janay Palmer, the victim. The NFL, cable news intelligentsia, and others have now abused Ms. Palmer as well.
My first five years out of law school I spent in a small town law practice in Evergreen, Colorado. Nothing surprised me more than the amount of spousal and child abuse common in Jefferson and Clear Creek counties. After five years it was these impossibly hard emotional cases that most motivated me to become a corporate lawyer.
There were many competing agendas in spousal abuse cases. Judges typically hated these messy “he said/she said” cases. Social services workers often spent court time explaining their limited budgets as excuses for awful outcomes. One young lawyer who I faced in my last court case in Clear Creek was trying to build a practice in Georgetown to help support his mountain lifestyle.
It is easy to lose track of why you are in court. Easy to become confused in facts most people would rather not talk about. Easy for Vice-President Biden and others to pontificate on television about the Baltimore Ravens doing the right thing in firing Ray Rice. But only if you forget Janay Palmer, the victim.
Her husband who is coming off a bad season was set to make about $20 million dollars over the next three years. Rice is approaching the magic age of 30 when even the best running backs begin to lose their skills. After a year away from the game he will never make anything close to the $20 million the Ravens and the NFL have now taken away.
So many competing agendas. The NFL has a brand problem. The commissioner has a potential career problem. The Ravens have a salary cap problem involving a running back in decline. The cable news show have their daily ratings challenges. Politicians have an election where women’s issues are in play.
Janay Palmer is in a challenged marriage with an abuser. He may or may not abuse her again. That is the only agenda that matters.
Ray Rice may have socked away his prior earnings. If he has, it is his separate property not Janay Palmer’s marital property. He may have nothing. Either way in her first year of marriage she will have very little claim on what fortune he has. Now he has no income.
Abusers control their victims emotionally as we have heard over and over since the story broke. But they also control their victims with money. The worst case for a victim of abuse is to be dependent on the abuser for money.
It is a very difficult issue that the NFL, the Ravens, Vice-President Biden, and CNN rushed right over. It is why judges often struggle with putting an abuser in jail. This is not a “teaching moment” such as #bringbackourgirls or #ferguson. Because unlike those teaching moments, help was available to these victims.
The NFL could have told Rice to suit up this weekend, but place all of his earnings this year into an irrevocable trust established for the sole benefit of Janay Palmer and her daughter. It could have conditioned any future play on ongoing abuse counseling for the rest of his career. It could have put the victims first and empowered Janay Palmer to make an independent decision about her and her family’s future as a wealthy woman in early 2015.
These shameful explanations from advocates and cable news anchors pitying Janay Palmer and explaining her actions as “typical” of abused women are beyond contempt. Victims are individuals not props for a cause. You have to listen to what they want as individuals. You have to support them when they go back to the abuser and when they finally leave. Ms. Palmer needs empowerment in unique circumstances, not pity.
But just as with so many of these cases in a non-celebrity environment, this case became about agendas. It became about money, politics, and ratings. And the victim was violated all over again and left in the most vulnerable position – dependent on an unemployed abuser.