Notes from the Desk of Cynthia Lifson

When I began my career as an attorney over 20 years ago, the trials of O.J. Simpson captivated the public’s attention. A generation has passed, and we see once again that football, money, and the complexities of intimate partnerships have prompted another national conversation about domestic violence. How have things remained the same after the passage of all this time, and how have they changed?
In examining much of the commentary about Ray Rice and the Baltimore Ravens, I notice that most people believe that the brutal beating of Janay Palmer Rice in the hotel elevator does in fact represent domestic violence. (Interestingly, I have heard some people, although certainly a minority, suggest that because both parties were drinking alcohol, the incident in the elevator was “understandable.”)
What I find so very disturbing is the nasty undercurrent in some comments about Janay. I see much tittering about the fact that she is supportive of Ray, that she actually married him after this episode occurred, and that she chooses to remain with him, the father of her child, and work out a future with him. Suddenly, the entire world just knows what the correct course of action for Janay should be.
Instead of criticizing Janay’s choices, I believe that the initial question that we should be asking ourselves is this: How can anyone who loves another person do something like Ray did to Janay?
While the attitude of blaming the victim of domestic violence persists, as a community we can take comfort from the fact that some positive changes have occurred. Things are better now than they were 20 years ago. We see that the economic power of women has affected the response of the National Football League and its sponsors to domestic violence. We see that the presence of technology has enhanced our ability to witness the reality of intimate partner violence. We know that our laws – both in the federal and state systems – have been modified to protect people from further abuse.
While much of our attention will be focused on the personal story of Ray and Janay Rice, I am hopeful that we will remember that not all domestic violence episodes are videotaped. Not every incident involves physical injury like the true knock-out punch that Janay received. Much of domestic violence relates to the fear of imminent bodily injury as stated in our Family Law Article. With the new standard proof for final protective orders going into effect in a few weeks, it is my hope that our courts will be able to discern clearly the complexities of domestic violence and provide protection appropriately.