domestic violence

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Players know the rules and understand that violence needs to be contained within the sidelines. A great hit on the football field is flagged as a penalty if it happens out of bounds. But the violent actions that are celebrated and relived in slow motion replay, are not the real world. In the real world, violence should never be an accepted or explained, but for too many people, violence is their normal. The Ray Rice domestic violence story perhaps allows an opportunity for us to understand the depth and pervasiveness of this disaster, which is not limited by national border, race or social class.

Briefly, Ray Rice, an NFL running back, plead not guilty to third degree aggravated assault charges after police were called to a dispute at a New Jersey hotel and video showed him dragging his unconscious, soon-to-be-wife out of an elevator. By entering and completing the terms of a diversion agreement, the charges will be dropped but the arrest record will remain. The arrest might have been forgotten, it happened 5 months ago, except for the two game suspension levied by the NFL under its personal conduct policy. There was no Goldilocks scenario for the NFL ruling. People felt it too harsh or too lenient but none thought it just right, except perhaps for the NFL Commissioner’s office.

Domestic violence continues to be a hidden public health crisis, not only in the United States but worldwide. It is estimated that 1.3 million women are abused in this country every year. There are no firm numbers, because victims of domestic abuse often do not step forward to report the crime. For a variety of reasons, even after seeking care for major trauma in the ER, women hide the true cause of their injuries, even when confronted with indisputable proof.

“Violence against women is often accompanied by emotionally abusive and controlling behavior, and thus is part of a systematic  pattern of dominance and control. Domestic violence results in physical injury, psychological trauma, and sometimes death. The consequences of domestic violence can cross generations and can truly last a lifetime.”

–National Coalition against Domestic Violence

Leaving an abusive situation is complicated and decisions that victims make may not seem reasonable to an outsider unfamiliar with the situation. Often it is because options are lacking. Children may be put at risk, there may not be any money to help leave and then there is always the fear of retribution. Even with police protection, the use of women’s shelters or relocation, there can be the fear that the batterer will stalk the victim and the next attack could result in death. There is usually a next attack.

In medicine, prevention is always preferable than diagnosis and treatment, but for victims of domestic violence, major societal change will need to occur before an individual assault can be prevented. Poverty and unemployment, economic stress, low educational achievement and weak community infrastructure, where neighbors are unwilling to intervene, are risk factors that an individual victim cannot fix. The spiral of marital instability, a history of being abused or watching abuse occur when growing up leads to behavior repetition. But we should not presume that domestic violence is only a class issue.

Victims come from all neighborhoods, all jobs and all ethnic and religious backgrounds. There is no typical victim and there is no typical abuser. Last month, John Michael Farren, former White House lawyer and general counsel for Xerox, was found guilty of attempted murder of his wife, after breaking her face with a flashlight and strangling her. She was able to escape with her two children from their mansion in Connecticut. It took 4 ½ years to get the conviction after the domestic assault in 2010. Most victims cannot hide and live in fear for that long.

The story of Ray Rice is yet to be written. He is a first offender. His victim is now his wife. He stood in front of the press and explained his commitment to family including his 2 year old daughter. He has returned to the Baltimore Raven training camp, where fans wore his #27 jersey and cheered loudly as he made his entrance. One act of violence may not define a person but regardless of the performance during a game, the decision as to whether an athlete should be cheered and considered a hero needs to be based upon their actions away from the field of play. And no matter how many yards rushed or passes caught, Ray Rice will not be a hero.




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