Two weeks ago, the Miss America beauty pageant aired as contestants walked across the stage with their swimsuits and formal gowns, showcased their talents, and answered questions in just 20 seconds. The contest was surely entertaining but as the final five contestants were asked thought provoking questions, it became apparently that the Miss America organization is about more than pretty faces. During the question component of the competition, domestic violence was one of the 5 topics discussed on the air.The Miss America third runner up, Miss Florida, however, had difficulty rising up to the challenge.
Miss Florida Victoria Cowen was asked a question in regards to Janay Rice, now-wife of suspended NFL player Ray Rice, and her decision to stay with him. The media is overflowing with commentary and updates about domestic violence cases after the nation watched Ray Rice punch and drag Janay Rice out of an elevator. The contestant was asked, “As a woman, what do you think of her [Janay Rice’s] decision?” Unfortunately, Miss Florida answered without understanding the complexities leaving an abusive relationship. Miss Florida explained that she believes it was the wrong decision for Janay to stay with her husband. “He does not deserve a second chance,” Miss Florida concluded.
By no means is the question easy to answer – especially in 20 seconds. However, she has a responsibility to be role model and advocate for women. The Miss America organization strives to empower women to further their education and achieve their career aspirations while giving young women a forum to express themselves. She was not able to articulate her knowledge about issues concerning domestic violence.
One in four women will experience domestic violence in their lifetime. It is an epidemic that demands power and control over the victim and can be manifested physically, emotionally, and financially. Violent incidents can happen periodically in an abusive relationship. Many abusers will bring home flowers and ask for forgiveness, causing the victim to be hopefully that he will change his behavior. The victim will be isolated from family and friends and possibly blame herself for the abuse. It takes an average of 7 times before a victim is able to leave her abusive partner indefinitely. If she is able to leave her partner, she is still at risk. Almost one-third of female homicide victims that are reported in police records are killed by a partner/spouse.
There are many reasons why a woman might decide to stay with her abusive partner but victim blaming will not make the issue go away. In solidarity and support, our communities must protect women and encourage them to find help. It is not her fault that her partner is violent and abusive but it is because of the abuser that she is unsafe, hurt and afraid. The decision Janay Rice made is not wrong. It is wrong that Ray Rice attacked her but is not being held accountable.
As women, it is important to be supportive of other women. The violence against women that happens in our backyards and around the world is serious, traumatizing and dangerous. There is no easy way to make a decision when it concerns safety and survival. Every person should be respected and treated with dignity. Our leaders should be aware of these factors when discussing the life decisions of another woman. If role models and public figures continue to blame the victim, the violence will continue. Even if it is only for a 20 second answer during a beauty pageant, women should stand up and be advocates for other women.