The Ray Rice elevator beating incident raises an important issue in the area of domestic violence.  News reports state that Price and his fiance–now wife– Janay have engaged in couples counseling.  For many reasons, couples counseling is not just ineffective for domestic violence victims, it can be very harmful.

When people engage in couples counseling, the presumption is that the problems lies with the relationship itself.  In the case of domestic violence, the problem lies with the abuser who is solely responsible for his abusive behavior.  Couples counseling only perpetuates the fantasy that if the victim were a better girlfriend/spouse, the abuse would not occur.  It allows the abuser to continue to blame the victim or the relationship for the violence, which can then further his agenda of control and power. 

Effective counseling depends upon truthfulness.  An abuser will be defensive and in denial when the counselor and the spouse are questioning him about it.  That questioning might actually cement his convictions that he is himself a victim of circumstances.  The victim is also not likely to be forthcoming about the severity and frequency of violence in fear that disclosure will lead to further abuse when the couple gets home.  In fact, studies show that this is exactly what happens.  The victim finally opens up and confesses to a long history of violence and offensive behavior only to go home and have the abuser “punish” her for it.  The victim wrongfully thinks that by having a counselor know about the violence, she is somehow protected.  Not the case.

This is not to say that a victim of domestic violence does not need counseling. She does need counseling, but a whole different type that is aimed at reducing the level of guilt, encouraging independence, creating a safety plan, and treating the victim for post traumatic stress disorder. 

One of the repeated comments about seeing the video of the beating is that, “Had everyone known how bad this was, Rice would have not gotten off so easily at first.”  It is as if a woman being knocked unconscious by a muscled professional athlete is not ugly or violent.  What did we think it looked like?  We didn’t imagine the scene because we didn’t want to. But when we watch the video, we now know.  Domestic violence is disturbing and severe.  That one blow could easily have caused Janay’s death.  The case of Ray Rice should be a lesson to us all in what domestic violence really is and how it must be handled. 

This post was written by Karen Conti: Partner