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Domestic violence experts doubt this was Ray Rice's first assault

Domestic violence experts doubt this was Ray Rice's first assault
Ray Rice and his wife, Janay Rice, at a disastrous news conference at the Ravens' practice facility in May. (Patrick Semansky / Associated Press)

No wonder Janay Rice feels like she is living a nightmare.

Her football star husband was already paying a minor legal and public relations price for knocking her out in an elevator last February. The NFL, after an appallingly weak response, finally imposed a stringent new policy about domestic assault.

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Just when the whole scandal seemed like it was about to blow over, TMZ posted a video of the assault on Monday. How that explosive footage had remained secret for seven months is a mystery.

But the images reignited the scandal, and the fallout has been intense. Ray Rice, who initially got a two-game suspension and a year of mandatory domestic violence counseling, is now facing a career implosion. The star running back has been cut by the Baltimore Ravens, suspended indefinitely by the NFL and dropped by Nike.

Tuesday on Instagram, Janay Rice posted an understandable howl of pain:

"I woke up this morning feeling like I had a horrible nightmare, feeling like I'm mourning the death of my closest friend. But to have to accept the fact that it's reality is a nightmare in itself. No one knows the pain that media & unwanted options [opinions] from the public has caused my family. To make us relive a moment in our lives that we regret every day is a horrible thing. To take something away from the man I love that he has worked his ass of for all his life just to gain ratings is horrific.

"THIS IS OUR LIFE! What don't you all get. If your intentions were to hurt us, embarrass us, make us feel alone, take all happiness away, you've succeeded on so many levels. Just know we will continue to grow & show the world what real love is! Ravensnation we love you!"

Though she has chosen to lash out at the media and others for her husband's dizzying fall from grace, the media are not to blame. Nor are strangers with opinions to blame.

"What she is describing is true — it is a nightmare," said David Wexler, a domestic violence expert and author of the book "When Good Men Behave Badly." "It's hard for her to remember that the source of what has come down so negatively in their lives is him — not the media, not the police, not the NFL."

And though Janay Rice does not realize it, in some ways she may be a very lucky woman. Had her husband's assault not been caught on video, he might have inflicted even worse violence on her.

Maybe he already has.

On Tuesday morning, when I called Jenesse Center, a Los Angeles domestic violence intervention program, its department heads were in a regular meeting, talking about this very topic. They'd all seen the video of Rice punching his then-fiancee in the Atlantic City casino elevator, watching her drop like a stone and then being dragged out of the elevator into a hallway.

All found it chilling. Not one believed it was his first assault.

"Had it been the first time," said Debra Ward, Jenesse director for strategic development, "he would have gone straight to her to see if she was doing well, and he did the opposite. It didn't even faze him."

"One of the myths about abuse and domestic violence is that the violence happens when they lose control," said Angela Parker, Jenesse director of training and programs. "That is not true. It is all about control. He didn't just black out and hit her. It's a pattern of violence where he has used violence to control her, to keep her in line, to keep her quiet. There's always a build up to it."

Janay Rice's pained statement was understandable, they told me, but also sad for its lack of self awareness. They thought Janay Rice could use a good counselor, someone to listen to her fears, someone to help her see who is truly to blame for her family's nightmare.

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"This story is tragic in and of itself," said Adrienne Lamar-Snider, Jenesse's chief operations officer. "But the one thing that is troubling about the statement is that there is no acknowledgement of the problem. For victims and batterers to move forward, there has to be some acknowledgement."

The couple's denial was on vivid display last spring, when they appeared at a disastrous news conference organized by the Ravens. Ray Rice apologized to everyone but his wife. Janay Rice said she deeply regretted the "role that I played in the incident that night." Unwittingly, she did a terrible disservice to battered women everywhere. But her greatest disservice was to herself.

"No one is faulting her for wanting to save her family," said Jenesse Chief Executive Karen Earl. "We were all just saying we can't imagine the pressure, what she's going through, and who is telling her she ruined his career. But she needs a moment where she says, 'OK, I got it. I am a victim.'"

"No one really likes to think of themselves as a victim, in the same way that nobody likes to think of themselves as an abuser," Parker said. "It almost becomes empowering for the victim to say, 'It's not that bad, this is my life, this is how I've chosen to handle the situation.' The couple is a united front against the world, and it makes them both feel more cocooned. People genuinely want to keep their marriage together and they do whatever they have to do."

In a case like this, where million-dollar contracts, celebrity status and a high-profile marriage are at stake, you wouldn't expect the Rices to acknowledge the nature of their relationship. At least not at first. But eventually they are going to have to face the awful truth.

I asked Wexler if he thought Janay Rice had an obligation at some point to publicly acknowledge that she is the victim of domestic violence.

Not at all, he said. Nor should she be criticized for staying in the marriage, if that's what she decides.

"Her No. 1 task is to draw a line in the sand and say, 'I will not tolerate any future abusive behavior,'" he said.

If the Rices can weather this crisis, Wexler said, they could do a lot of public good by stepping up and trying to educate others about the dangers and errors of domestic violence. "That would be a really noble and mature step to take," he said. "But I don't think most people can pull that off."

Please follow me on Twitter: @robinabcarian

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