Gloria Sandoval was saddened, but not especially shocked, when a video surfaced last week showing Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice knocking his then-fiancee, Janay Palmer, unconscious with a vicious blow to the face.

"Domestic violence happens in all kinds of situations," she said. "The estimates are it happens to one of every four women at some point in their lives. It's not unusual to find men physically abusive to women, whether it's a punch to the face or something else."

Sandoval, CEO of STAND! For Families Free of Violence, has not only helped thousands of East Bay women in abusive relationships during her 17 years at the nonprofit agency but has experienced firsthand the horrors of living with a violent mate.

Ray Rice and his wife Janay speak to the media on May 23. The Baltimore Ravens terminated Rice’s contract and the NFL banned him indefinitely on
Ray Rice and his wife Janay speak to the media on May 23. The Baltimore Ravens terminated Rice's contract and the NFL banned him indefinitely on Sept. 8 after video surfaced showing him punching Janay (his fiancee at the time) in an Atlantic City hotel elevator in February. (Associated Press file)

She was trapped in what she calls a "domestic violence marriage" for nine years. It was at a time, she noted ironically, she was director of the regional Rape Crisis Center. "In my work world, I was talking to women about sexual assault and violence while experiencing it myself at home," she said.

She was a classic battered wife who tried to leave many times. One violent episode followed another until something unforgettable happened.

"After one very bad incident, my son -- who was 4 years old at the time -- looked up at me with tears in his eyes and said, 'Mommy if you just did what Daddy said, none of this would happen.' At that moment, I realized that if I didn't get out of that relationship, my son was going to turn into a man who was abusive."



Most violence is learned behavior, she said, absorbed in situations similar to hers.

"Most folks who grow up to be either victims or perpetrators of domestic violence come from families where there was violence," she said, noting that her son is now a loving husband and father and avid defender of women's rights.

The STAND! website shares several tales of East Bay women who struggled to escape intolerable relationships. Brittany met a man in college who "swept me off my feet" before revealing a darker side when he drank -- throwing her into walls, pistol-whipping her and holding a gun to her head. Fareena grew up in Fiji seeing her father beat her mom before moving to the U.S. and ending up with a husband who treated her the same way.

Abused women often find it difficult to leave a relationship, Sandoval said. They stay for their children's sake. They stay because they have no independent income. They stay because they still love their husband. They stay because they've been cursed and criticized so often they have no self-esteem. They stay because they fear worse violence will occur if they attempt to flee.

"Statistics show that the most violent time is after the woman leaves," Sandoval said. "Domestic violence is about power and control. When the abuser no longer has power and control, the violence intensifies."

STAND! responds to 15,000 clients a year on its crisis line. It provides transitional housing for up to 25 women and children at its shelter, and it places others with neighboring facilities. The agency offers prevention, intervention and treatment programs, counseling, safety planning and legal advocacy. It sponsors educational programs for middle- and high-school students, all in the hopes of preventing what we saw on that video last week.

The Ray Rice episode was a sad reminder of how prevalent domestic violence is. The only thing setting it apart was the publicity.

Contact Tom Barnidge at tbarnidge@bayareanewsgroup.com.