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  • SEPTEMBER 14, 2014

I haven’t said much about the Ray Rice scandal. I have, of course, followed it closely, but I don’t often open up about my history. Then I read about the #WhyIStayed movement on Twitter and it hit home for me.

The way the NFL handled this situation is the exact reason #WhyIStayed.

More than a decade after I left my abuser, you would never know I was a domestic violence survivor. There are no physical scars. I am blessed to be married to a wonderfully loving man and to be a mother to an incredible little girl. The only scars that remain are the emotional ones and those scars have colored my interactions with every person I meet, the way I approach disagreements in my marriage, and the consciously peaceful way I parent my daughter.

The mental abuse I suffered was far more damaging than the physical. My abuser convinced me that no one would believe me if I told them about the abuse. He convinced me that law enforcement would do nothing to help me, that my parents would be ashamed of me, and that my friends would shun me. For years, my abuser chipped away at my self-worth and mentally beat me down so I would stay. So he could continue to control me.

My story is not unique. This is the pattern with domestic violence. Mentally beat a woman down, so she stays around once the physical beatings start. Convince her that it’s her fault.

When the National Football League gave Ray Rice a slap on the wrist for punching his fiancé in the face and then dragging her out of the elevator, it confirmed to domestic violence victims everywhere what their batterers have been telling them: no one will believe you, no one will help you, law enforcement will do nothing, and you will be shunned.

I’d be willing to bet that this contributed to the reason some women stayed. The NFL absolutely should be ashamed and Roger Goodell should be fired for how this situation was handled. Every single day, women (and men) are murdered by the very person who is supposed to love them the most. It’s time we stop trivializing it.

One in four women will experience domestic violence during her lifetime. Every year, one in three female homicide victims are murdered by her current or former partner. Every year, more than 3 million children witness domestic violence in their homes.

Domestic violence is the third leading cause of homelessness. Domestic violence costs more than $37 billion a year in law enforcement involvement, legal work, medical and mental health treatment, and lost productivity at companies. Most domestic violence incidents are never reported.

Let’s stop questioning why Janay Rice stayed, and let’s start talking about why Ray Rice thought it was OK to hit her in the first place.

My hope is that the Baltimore Ravens release of Ray Rice will help contribute to the reason #WhyILeft for some women. We can no longer look the other way or slap someone on the wrist for assaulting their spouse.

It’s time to stop blaming women for staying and to stop making excuses for the abuser. Now that a national sports figure has brought this issue to national attention, it’s time to do everything we can to make sure women don’t stay.

#WhyILeft – My loving family found a way to convince me I was strong enough and could get the help and protection I needed to get away. The thought of leaving was paralyzing and actually leaving was terrifying. It saved my life.

Michelle Todd is a public affairs consultant based in St. Petersburg. She is a senior adviser to the Charlie Crist for Governor campaign. Column courtesy of Context Florida.