The TMZ release of the Ray Rice assault video has sparked outrage all around the sports world. The outrage has been directed at both the horrible, now unambiguous actions of Ray Rice and the mishandling of the situation by the NFL league offices. Much has been written and said about the situation in the last 24 hours. Not nearly enough, however, has been written about domestic violence in general. Here’s hoping this is a start.
I am an Assistant Prosecutor in my hometown, a normal Midwest town. Currently, I am assigned to the domestic violence court in my hometown. I prosecute domestic violence cases on a daily basis. It’s been an illuminating experience. I had a normal, healthy childhood. I never witnessed domestic violence in my home. So I, like most others, never realized that it is a real problem. But it is. It’s a problem that plagues every community in the country– large or small. The case of Ray Rice is a good reminder of that fact.
While every instance of domestic violence is unique to those involved in it, all domestic violence cases share similar characteristics and dynamics. Domestic violence is rarely an isolated incident. Rather, it is a series of events, both verbal and physical, which result in a cycle of violence.
Relationships mired in domestic violence generally begin small and escalate gradually. Abusers do not simply assault their partners. Abusers control their partners. Abusers use many different methods to control their partners. Money and children are among the most common methods of control. Power and control manifest themselves in many different ways, though, captured in the Power and Control Wheel created by domestic violence experts.
Abusers begin with verbal and emotional abuse. That escalates to physical violence. The physical violence escalates in degree. Eventually, the physical violence ends through either the termination of the relationship or the death of the victim. In my small Midwest hometown, there have been at least three murders in the past 12 months that are a direct result of domestic violence escalating to a fatal ending.
In between the abusive events, there are honeymoon periods. Abusers begin blaming victims for the abusive event occurring. Victims blame themselves. Abusers manipulate and intimidate victims into feeling responsible, minimizing the abuse, and ultimately recanting. I meet and speak with domestic violence victim on a near daily basis who recant and minimize the behaviors of their abusers. Victims then re-enter abusive relationships. The cycle continues. The relationship becomes increasingly dangerous.
So how does all of this tie into the Ray Rice video? Understanding the dynamics of domestic violence allows us to provide better context for individual instances of domestic violence. The Ray Rice video shows a domestic violence incident that is, in all likelihood, not an isolated incident. Rice and his fiance engage in a verbal argument outside of the elevator. From there, they enter the elevator, the doors close, and Ray Rice proceeds to punch his fiance twice in the face until she falls unconscious. Rice then allows her unconscious body to lay in the elevator until the doors open and he drags her away.
These are not actions that are characteristic of a person who lost his temper and made a mistake. These are actions indicative of a calculated abuser. Rice doesn’t impulsively hit his fiance while outside of the elevator. He waits until they are seemingly in private and seriously assaults her. He doesn’t panic and check on her well-being immediately following the assault. He is calm. He shows no remorse. He appears to know what he’s doing.
And it’s not just that Ray Rice’s assault on his fiance doesn’t appear to be an isolated incident. His situation doesn’t seem to be all that unique among NFL players. Ray McDonald was recently arrested for a suspected felony domestic violence incident. Greg Hardy was recently found guilty of assaulting his former girlfriend while threatening to kill her. These incidents, too, are not indicative of being first-time, isolated incidents.
These incidents do, however, reflect the wide-spread epidemic that is domestic violence. No one watches a football player score a touchdown and think, “You know what, I wonder if he beats his wife.” But that is the sad reality in the world in which we live. Athletes, friends and family we admire engage in these abusive relationships every day, whether it be as an abuser or a victim. And we turn a blind eye. It’s about time that changed.
The NFL has a terrific platform to contribute to that sort of change. Shift the focus off from diseases like cancer, which already have real and significant public awareness, to something like domestic violence, which is currently under-reported and under-prosecuted. The NFL doesn’t have to stop contributing to the causes it currently does. There is plenty of money to go towards other worthy causes like domestic violence awareness. Encourage domestic violence victims to report and follow through with cases. Donate to centers that provide support networks for victims of domestic violence. Correct the behavior of abusers, whether it be that of players, other employees, or fans.
Make a difference. The opportunity is there. Take it and run with it, NFL.