FILE - Janay Rice, left, looks on as her husband, Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, speaks to the media during a news conference in Owings Mills, Md.
FILE - Janay Rice, left, looks on as her husband, Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, speaks to the media during a news conference in Owings Mills, Md.

The National Football League's Players' Association has appealed former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice's suspension.  Rice was suspended from the league and released by the Ravens after a video showed him knocking his then fianceé unconscious in an Atlantic City casino elevator. Rice is just one of several NFL players who have been implicated in domestic abuse cases.  VOA Now! host David Byrd spoke with author and motivational speaker Autumn Miles - herself an abuse survivor -- about the Rice case and domestic abuse. 

BYRD: As an abuse survivor, do you see anything familiar in the Ray Rice case?

Author and motivational speaker Autumn Miles
Author and motivational speaker Autumn Miles is a domestic abuse survivor

MILES: Absolutely. You know that scene that we saw played out last week was normal. You know it shocked the world because the world doesn’t have eyes on abusive situations like that if they are not involved in domestic violence.  I didn’t shock me at all.  I was horrified now being several years out of my abusive marriage, but it didn’t shock me.  You know, and a couple of things specifically that didn’t shock me were Janay Rice’s response, when she came out and gave a statement, you know she was pointing fingers at the members of the media saying ‘you ruined my life,’ and things of that nature.  And you know that is what a victim of domestic violence does: they protect at any cost.  And she was protecting her man because a lot of times if you don’t protect you man there are consequences for not protecting if that makes sense. So it didn’t surprise me at all; a very unfortunate situation but I am so glad that there’s this huge spotlight on this issue.

BYRD: What are some signs of an abusive relationship for those who might not know?

MILES:  Well, you know there’s so many out there. However, they are hard to target. Abuse is a very secretive issue, okay? Someone who’s involved in – a victim of abuse – you have to understand that you don’t start dating and become an abuse victim. I mean there is a love/infatuation time period. But the aggressor of the abuse will start with the little things: they’ll start cussing you out, they’ll start telling you you’re stupid, things like that that sort of degrade any esteem that you have.  And then there is almost a brainwashing that takes place: you begin to believe after a time period that, you know, ‘I am worth nothing; this guy is here and he does love me and I do make mistakes.’ You start believing the lies that are told.  So because of that process, women will protect that man at any cost. I mean, you know just like we saw played out last week.

A couple of the signs specifically: if a woman is isolated. If she uses the word permission in regards to her significant other, more than likely there’s a problem that should be at least [looked] at: ‘listen, I can’t go out with the girls tonight; I need permission.’ Okay, that’s not normal in a relationship. If you see a couple where one of them is quick to anger, so to speak, they get angry really easily, and when they do the other one steps up and defends, that situation needs to be looked at. If there’s ever a sense of fear of the significant other that situation needs to be looked at.  So it’s hard to detect, but if you take a minute and really evaluate your friends’ and family’s relationships, you can find it.

BYRD: The hashtag #WhyIStayed was very popular after this case.  Why do women stay in your opinion?

MILES: Oh my goodness, so many reasons. I actually hashtagged #WhyIStayed. You know, fear.  You are told a lot of times ‘no one will ever love you.’ And that is very consistent in the abusive community. ‘No one will ever love you,’ and you know, that’s what was told to me many times and I believed it. One of the things that women want is they want love, they want acceptance. And that was one of the reasons I thought ‘man, I’ve got him now; so no matter how I am being treated he does love me, so I am going to stick with him.’ Fear of starting over: a lot of times everything in a victim’s mind is wrapped around, they almost worship this significant other that they have and it is scary to think of a life without them. You know I’ve said this in many interviews: abuse is comfortable after a while.  I didn’t know what it was like to be in a relationship with a man who actually loved me. So pulling away, when I decided to leave, pulling away from that relationship was more terrifying than staying in it because I didn’t know how I was going to function because the abuse side of it was comfortable to me, I knew it. So that’s one of the reasons I hashtagged #WhyIStayed.

BYRD: What are some things that women can do if they are in an abusive relationship? In this particular case there’s a lot of money at stake: Ray Rice is a very highly paid football player. Other players who have been accused of domestic abuse, they are making an awful lot of money. What are some things that women can do?

MILES: You know this is a tricky question because every woman has to have their “Ah-ha” moment. And it happens at all different times and unfortunately some women never have it.  Because of the brain-washing techniques that take place, this is very interesting in my story specifically: I was watching football with my husband and he reached over and grabbed my arm – and this was several years into our relationship; the abuse had happened way before – he grabbed my arm and squeezed it really hard.  You know, he wasn’t slinging me around the room, he just squeezed my arm.  And that squeezed my brain and woke me up.  And I said ‘what!? I didn’t do anything to deserve this!’ And that was my “Ah-ha” moment. When a woman has that it is incredibly difficult to leave.  It took me a year to gain the courage to tell anyone; one year!  That’s a very long time.  I went through the abuse but I didn’t have the courage yet.

I would say immediately – one of the great things about our culture is that we can call a domestic violence hotline immediately. And they understand the mind of a victim; a lot of them are former victims themselves. You can pick up the line and call and no one will ever know.  And they will really coach you on how to get out.  And really counselling is very good.  If you understand that you are in an abusive relationship, you need to seek counselling to sort of help to unravel the lies that have been told you.  But I would start literally with a phone call.  If you are terrified for yourself and for your children, start with one phone call that no one will know about and that’s an easy way to be coached out. 

BYRD: Commissioner Goodell has appointed four women to help the NFL in its domestic and sexual abuse policymaking.  Do you think that’s enough or is more needed and if so, what else is needed?

MILES: Unfortunately I don’t think that this is enough. I applaud the effort reactionary as it was, but you have to understand that if you are the NFL, the NHL, whatever organization you are that has such a following, you have a social responsibility.  And the fact that these policies weren’t put in place in 1920 when the NFL began, you know this should have been thought about a long time ago.  Even since then, there’s been domestic violence cases left and right and you know they were swept under the rug. Thank God for this video, but unfortunately I don’t think it’s enough. They have an opportunity for women like me who have been victims to say ‘I will not stand for this; no matter what we are stopping this.’ And if an organization doesn’t take the stand when they have the opportunity, as a victim I am offended that they did not do more sooner.