Ray Rice video's second horror: Why it never should have been published in the first place

The footage of Ray Rice assaulting his partner doesn't teach us anything. It just further degrades her humanity

Published September 8, 2014 3:19PM (EDT)

Ray Rice            (AP/Patrick Semansky)
Ray Rice (AP/Patrick Semansky)

TMZ on Monday released footage of Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice punching Janay Rice in the face. The blow would knock her unconscious. We know this because that footage -- of Rice dragging his partner's lifeless body out of an elevator -- was released back in February.

Let's get the names involved straight, just so we know whom and what we're talking about before we talk about what it means for TMZ to make this footage available for public consumption. Rice is a domestic abuser who, according to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, was suspended for two games because he "made a terrible mistake." TMZ is a tabloid website that exists for no other purpose than to make money, and is now making that money off of images of a woman being brutally assaulted. Janay Rice is a victim of domestic violence.

People who abuse their partners do so becuase they believe their victims don't deserve physical safety or bodily autonomy. The release of this video without Janay Rice's consent is fueled by the same logic. Janay Rice isn't a person in this footage. She is just fodder for the news cycle, a prop to teach Roger Goodell and the NFL a lesson.

If we want to game out possibilities about what this video will "do," it's conceivable though not likely that this could shame Ravens head coach John Harbaugh into stepping down or create enough bad press that Goodell will resign. It's also possible that the millions of people who are now watching the video may "learn" something about the realities of domestic violence that they previously couldn't grasp. (It's also possible that they will simply tweet about having watched it and move on.)

But no matter what happens, it will have happened at the expense of Janay Rice. Whatever consumer outrage that, newly ignited, may drive the NFL to act will have been done on her back. So while this video may expose the brutality of the assault that landed Rice with a mere two-game suspension, it also exposes the brutality of a culture that does not see women as human. Millions of people are watching this video, presumably to learn about how "bad" the violence really was. (Something they couldn't believe, it seems, without seeing it for themselves.) But what are they actually learning? That Ray Rice shouldn't have hit his partner, but that the media and public is not obligated to afford Janay Rice respect, safety or privacy? So we can't hit women, but we can violate them and deny their humanity in any other way short of physical assault?

It's absurd that Rice was suspended for two games. And it's disgusting that Harbaugh, after viewing the footage of Rice dragging Janay out of the elevator (and likely the footage of him assaulting her), said publicly that he hadn't seen anything that would make him think Rice wouldn't be back on the field this season. And that the NFL put its full weight behind a campaign to defend a domestic abuser. And that Goodell needed an unprecedented wave of bad press to give even a modicum of a shit about violence against women, all these months later. And that sports commentators like Stephen A. Smith used this incident to blame victims of domestic violence for instigating their abuse.

But it's also disgusting that we needed "proof" -- every brutal second of that video -- to believe that what Ray Rice did was wrong. That this video is now being consumed, and Janay Rice being victimized anew, every few seconds. That TMZ is making money off of it.

And what will ultimately change? The NFL may do some executive shuffling to deflect a new round of bad press. Ray Rice may end up being booted out of the league. Commentators like Smith may feel chastened for thinking -- at least this time -- that Janay Rice shared responsibility for the violence committed against her. But our culture's disregard for women's humanity -- the fact that women can't have a reasonable expectation of safety and privacy, online or off -- remains the same as it ever was.

By Katie McDonough

Katie McDonough is Salon's politics writer, focusing on gender, sexuality and reproductive justice. Follow her on Twitter @kmcdonovgh or email her at kmcdonough@salon.com.

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