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Why The Domestic Violence Community Is Cheering On Janay Rice

Janay Rice, during her recent interview with ESPN's Jemele Hill Andrew Cutraro

Janay Rice's public comments are being heard and analyzed by domestic violence experts. And for the most part, advocates have applauded the wife of former Baltimore Ravens star Ray Rice for talking about the punch seen around the world.

Patti Giggans, executive director for Peace Over Violence, an L.A.-based sexual and domestic abuse prevention center, said she is glad Janay Rice is speaking on her own behalf with an interview by ESPN's Jemele Hill on Nov. 5, and on camera Monday by the "Today" show's Matt Lauer.

"Everyone in the world has their own version and is telling their own stories, including those in our field," Giggans said. "We're always skeptical when someone says 'It only happened once' [as Rice has said]. But I feel it's so important to allow victim survivors to tell their version, especially about the impact it had on them and on her. ...

"I feel she was taking the time to refute people's opinions of who she is. I feel good for her."

But Brian Pinero of the National Abuse Hotline, while saying the "Today" interview pointed out "the complexities" of why someone would not leave an abusive situation, said Rice's explanation that both she and Ray Rice were "highly intoxicated," can detract from the point. He worried that some misconceptions about domestic violence could be perpetuated.

"I think about the hundreds of women I have spoken to over the years and yes, alcohol plays a role, but ultimately [the abuser] still has a choice," he said. "It's never an excuse."

Giggans described Rice, who at times spoke through her tears, as coming off "pretty authentically" in the "Today" interview. "I didn't get the impression she's in denial," she said. "I got the feeling she's calling it what it is. Drinking does cause damage."

Rice said in both interviews that when she asked her husband why he left her on the ground after video captured him punching her in the face in an Atlantic City casino elevator and then dragging her out, that he described being "terrified" and in "shock" and didn't know what to do.

"The punch was shocking. But after the punch, just seeing her lay there as not even a person, was just as shocking," Pinero said. "I'm glad [Lauer] asked that question and it's great we got to hear her point of view -- 'Why did you just leave me there [like that]?' "

Giggans said Rice broke stereotypes some might have that abuse victims are not educated and well-spoken. But it may have also gone against experts' own conclusions.

"Domestic violence ... is a pattern of abuse," Giggans said. "Obviously, that one punch was terrible. He dragged her by her arms like that and it's all horrible, an act of violence that is prosecutable. But we look for patterns in a relationship and also coercive control, verbal abuse. Unfortunately it comes in a package, and we didn't get that impression from what from those who know them and their family say about them as a couple."

Rice did the Monday interview with her mother, Candy Palmer, sitting beside her, a strong show of support, both experts said. But Pinero said when Palmer expressed that she would not raise a daughter to be an abused woman, it could send the wrong message.

"It shows everyone's susceptible, but the statement itself is victim-blaming, almost shaming her," he said. "That statement alone shows how complex the issue is and how double-edged it can be."

The contention by Rice that the elevator incident was the first case of abuse by Ray Rice is something experts hear all the time from victims, but Pinero said it is often because they don't recognize when the cycle begins.

"The first time probably wasn't physical," he said. "It was probably, 'Don't deposit this check in this account. Why are you hanging out with that friend? She's a whore.' Or locking the door during an argument so she can't leave. It's always something else -- intimidation, power, control.

"Before [the Rice case], no one had a vocabulary for it. This caused a lot more people to dive into what is a healthy relationship."

Both Pinero and Giggins agree that the Rice case and its level of exposure is unprecedented, and that by speaking out publicly, Rice showed women that no matter where they come from, they're not alone.

Giggans said her only concern is that the couple does not stay on the path for a healthy relationship. "And we don't know. Nobody knows," she said. "We can say she's in denial and it's going to happen again, but no one knows. You just got the feeling [today] that she is committed to a better life for her family."