(WOMENSENEWS)–It’s been almost two weeks since the NFL decided to suspend Ray Rice indefinitely and the Baltimore Ravens terminated his five-year contract for domestic violence committed against his then-fiancé, as shown in graphic detail in a recently released video of the crime.
In the meantime, Arizona Cardinals backup running back Jonathan Dwyer was arrested in connection with domestic abuse allegations and deactivated after news of the arrest, CNN reported Sept. 18. The two victims are a 27-year-old woman and an 18-month-old child, police said.
In addition, a dozen other players with domestic violence arrests are still suiting up every week, according to a USA Today database that tracks players’ arrests since 2000.
Last week, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell named NFL executive Anna Isaacson to take over the newly formed job of vice president of social responsibility. As The Los Angeles Times reported on Sept. 15, he also named three advisors to help shape league policies on domestic violence and sexual assault: Lisa Friel, former prosecutor with the Manhattan District Attorney; Rita Smith, former executive director of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence; and Jane Randel, co-founder of NO MORE, a national movement to end domestic violence and sexual assault. These three women are deeply committed and qualified, and I am beyond hopeful–and eager–for the leadership and expertise they will bring.
We’ve heard these victim-blaming excuses and myths time and time again: that she was "asking for it." Or that "it’s her fault." Or that because a victim of domestic violence didn’t leave her abusive partner, that she wasn’t doing everything she knew how to do to be safe.
So as these conversations about where to go next are happening, we must ensure that they are happening with a foundation of knowledge about the issue of domestic violence and our culture that has blamed survivors for violence perpetrated against them for far too long.
Let’s Start With the Facts
1 in 4 women suffer severe physical violence from an intimate partner during their lifetimes–12 million women every year. That means that on Feb. 15, 2014, the same day as Rice’s assault, this was one of 32,877 instances of abuse.
In most cases, a video doesn’t exist. And it shouldn’t need to. Domestic violence encompasses sexual, emotional, economic and psychological violence. Physical scars are only one part of what survivors may be left with following violence and abuse.
Domestic violence is an intentional act. It is rooted in power and control–the desire for one partner to dominate and/or exercise control over another. An act of violence is not an act of blind anger, an anger management issue; it’s a tactic utilized by an abuser as an attempt to feel powerful at the expense of others. And it’s a learned behavior, meaning that abusers see violence practiced in society, or practice it themselves, and come to understand that it is a means of maintaining power and control.
The reasons someone remains in a domestic violence situation are complex and can be quite literally life and death. Our focus shouldn’t be on why survivors stay, but why abusers don’t stop their violent behavior. Just because some survivors don’t leave their abusers–or don’t come forward in the first place–doesn’t mean the abuse didn’t happen. Thousands of women die annually from domestic violence, many while attempting to leave the relationship. It is her choice to leave, and only she knows the safest moment to do so. It is our role to support her in this process.
What We Can Do
Support survivors. This takes the form of bearing witness to someone’s story, of believing her or him without judgment. It also takes the form of being an active, engaged community member. Help dispel the myths that blame survivors and excuse perpetrators.
Learn these facts. Share them widely. Domestic violence–any kind of violence and abuse–is difficult to talk about, but we still need to break the silence. Nearly 64 percent of Americans say that if we talk more about domestic violence and sexual assault, it would make it easier to help someone. This is a significant opportunity to open the door to these conversations.
Join the movement to say NO MORE to domestic violence and sexual assault. NO MORE is a transformative movement that seeks to unite our entire society around the commitment to end–yes, end–domestic violence and sexual assault. The celebrity-driven PSA campaign provides powerful examples of the victim-blaming myths and excuses we so often hear, and the NO MORE symbol brings recognition to these issues and offers a beacon of hope. Share the campaign.
Engage men to be part of the solution. For the men in our community, we encourage you to stand up and be part of the solution. Take the pledge to say NO MORE and encourage other men to do the same. Talk with men and boys in your life about healthy relationships and the importance of respect.
For their part, law enforcement agencies and prosecutors must treat domestic violence as seriously as other crimes. The Atlantic City police and prosecutor’s response to the Rice case raises questions about how the criminal justice system approaches domestic violence–something the state of New Jersey is currently investigating as part of its review of the case.
As for what the NFL can do, the potential is great. With annual revenues near $10 billion, it is the largest and most popular sports league in the U.S. with an audience of 64 percent of American adults. Stadiums fill with hundreds of thousands each week during the season and 33 million people participate in fantasy football.
It is my sincerest hope that the NFL’s most recent decision and their commitment to do better by domestic violence survivors–by all of us who expect more–will be a turning point in how they and other influential institutions prevent and respond to domestic violence. Because there’s so much more to do and, indeed, groundbreaking things are possible.
For all of us, let’s take this moment to be part of the change. Join us by supporting survivors, learning the facts and saying NO MORE. Together, we can end this violence.
A final and important note: For those who have personally experienced or been affected by violence, we know the coverage of this story is virtually impossible to ignore. As we are inundated with news and information, some of it graphic and possibly triggering, we invite you to visit www.joyfulheartfoundation.org for information on self-care and mitigating additional trauma.
Maile Zambuto is CEO of the Joyful Heart Foundation. She has been working in the field of victim assistance, raising critical funds and much needed awareness, for over 20 years. The mission of the Joyful Heart Foundation is to heal, educate and empower survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse, and to shed light into the darkness surrounding these issues.
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