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Thursday, September 18, 2014

Commentary: Ray Rice incident highlights need to protect abuse victims

By Jasmin Witcher

With all the recent focus on the Rice family, the NFL, and questions as to who viewed the video and knew what, and when, I believe we should stop judging and pointing fingers and start focusing on the larger issue.

Domestic violence is a local and a national problem that knows no boundaries. With one in four women experiencing domestic violence in her lifetime, it is imperative that victims receive the support and care needed to stay safe.

A segment of the video was released earlier this year sometime after the incident. At that time, my thoughts and concern immediately turned to the victim. Is she protecting herself and her child? Does she have access to a safe place? Is she seeking help and counseling?

As the interim executive director of Bethany House of Northern Virginia Inc. I, and the other BHNV staff, ask ourselves these kinds of questions every day.

Bethany House is a registered 501(c)3 non-profit, crisis intervention organization serving Northern Virginia and the D.C. metro community. It was founded in 1979 by Doris Ward to help women and their children who have suffered from domestic violence regain health and dignity and become re-established in their community. We provide this by offering temporary, safe housing and support. Our vision is to eliminate domestic violence one family at a time.

Janay Palmer, the woman in the video being assaulted by Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, is a domestic violence victim. The incident earlier this year may or may not have been the first time she was physically assaulted. We know that domestic violence most often occurs behind closed doors and out of the public’s view.

When female victims of domestic abuse or intimate partner abuse call us, our primary, immediate focus is on helping them leave their abuser and get to a safe place. Through our initial intake process, we assist with safety planning, counseling, and if needed, refer victims to emergency shelter at Bethany House or another agency if our shelter beds are full. Once in our shelter program, we work closely with each woman to determine what other services, counseling, and support are needed.

Our clients are able to stay in our emergency shelter for up to four months – and sometimes longer - before moving into permanent or transitional housing situations. We offer an aftercare program where shelter graduates can receive continued case management and support for up to two years.

It is up to us as a community to ensure that domestic violence victims receive the services and support they need to rebuild independent lives and transition into futures free from abuse. Bethany House helps women and their children to do exactly that by providing housing, counseling, life skills training, and intensive case management support.

As we have seen with the Ray Rice incident, so much attention has been paid to the abuser that the needs of the victim – in this case, his wife – have been overlooked. This can send a negative message to individuals experiencing domestic violence that they are somehow to blame and can have the harmful effect of discouraging victims from coming forward and seeking help.

It is imperative that abuse victims are fully supported. Some women who suffer years of repeated abuse never talk about it with family or friends. Many never leave their abuser, and do not receive help or counseling to deal with the emotional trauma caused by an abusive relationship. This is a pervasive problem in our society.

Help us end domestic violence.  If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic violence, call the Bethany House Helpline at 703-658-9500.


  1. Great commentary! Thank you for the noble work that you and your colleagues do.

  2. Ray Rice's girl friend has a child? Her boyfriend (now husband) is rich, of course she has a nice place. She is probably seeking legal help and financial counseling to make sure she gets some $.

    If she drops charges or if his incomes suffers then she will be poor. Little does she know there is a hidden Bethany house in Annandale that is willing to take her in. Oh wait that house needs to expand some, better not tell the neighbors.

    Ray Rice is being treated better than Micheal Vick. Send Rice to gitmo !

  3. Does Bethany House have any Spanish speakers available to take calls?

  4. Very good article Jasmin - so many good points and it's so necessary to keep people, me included, reminded of how the dv cycle of violence works. Thanks for all the work that you and the BH staff do. I can't wait to see the bigger/better home for clients!