Did you watch the video of (now ex-) Ravens player Ray Rice punch his then-fiance (now wife) Janay in the head, knocking her unconscious and then dragging her out of the elevator? If so, you're not alone. In fact, the gruesome video has been watched more than one million times since being released. Many decried looking at the stolen nude celebrity photos that leaked recently as a violation of privacy. So if seeing someone naked without their permission is a violation, is seeing someone get punched unconscious without their permission also harmful?
It's a complicated question to answer in today's digital age, admits Jen Marsh, Vice President of Victim's Services at Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN). While some survivors of domestic abuse want to talk about their experiences, others—like Janay, who posted a note on her Instagram account (which has since been made private) pleading for privacy—don't.
Marsh points to a long history of similar cases in child pornography. "We know that those survivors have told us that every time a video of them being abused resurfaces, they can feel like they're reliving the incident (like a PTSD attack)," she says. "They feel an inability to ever fully heal and move on."
Whether or not Janay wants to talk about it, everyone else certainly is—but that may not be entirely a bad thing. Marsh says that RAINN has seen a large increase in calls since the video was released, as has the National Domestic Violence Hotline. "At first people were kind of upset about Ray Rice's weak punishment, but then this video came out and people were outraged," she says, adding that many callers have said they see themselves in Janay. The explosion of the hashtag #WhyIStayed is further evidence that this video, as horrific as it is, is furthering awareness about domestic violence.
Inevitably, people will watch and people will talk, Marsh says, so the important part now is to be as respectful as possible in the discussion and to make sure the survivors have a voice. "It's a conversation that we will have to continue to have as the technology evolves, but we need to make sure we are asking the survivors what they need and what they want to see happen with their information—and then do it," she says. For that reason, Marsh asks media outlets not to link to or repost the Rice video or others like it, and to be careful not to blame the survivor in the way we talk about the incidents.
For more information or help on this topic, you can contact RAINN or the National Domestic Violence Hotline. Both advocacy groups have added more volunteers to handle the increase in calls.