Domestic violence is not just an NFL problem. It’s not just a women’s issue. And it’s not a new issue.
“It’s always been an issue, but because it’s happening within the celebrity/athletic realm, it’s taking the attention of people who otherwise would have turned their heads to it or not acknowledged that it was an issue in our community,” said Fatima M. Smith of the YWCA of Richmond.
“I think a lot of times people perceive domestic violence or intimate partner violence as a women’s issue, but it really affects more than just women and it affects more than just the two people who are involved in it,” Smith said.
“It plays out into how our children are affected. There have been studies that show children who witness domestic violence have lower IQ scores. There’s evidence that shows that women who are abused lose on average 8 million days of work collectively ... maybe because they have a black eye or the abuser is preventing them from using their car to get to work.”
Elevator surveillance camera footage showing then-Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice dragging a woman, Janay Palmer, who is now his wife, moments after punching her so hard she lost consciousness, put out in the open what is so often hidden behind closed doors.
One in four women and one in seven men have been physically assaulted/beaten by an intimate partner, according to one national survey that is done annually to track trends in intimate partner violence, sexual violence and stalking.
Domestic violence also includes violence against children. Some are calling the way Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson disciplined his 4-year-old son, allegedly whipping his bare skin with a switch made from a tree branch or twig that left welts visible a week later, a type of domestic violence.
“Certainly that will ultimately be decided in a court, but by the appearance of what has been stated so far, it certainly appears to be abuse, in that there were injuries,” said Jeanine Harper, executive director of Greater Richmond SCAN (Stop Child Abuse Now). “There were physical injuries as a result of the discipline that was used on the child. That constitutes abuse.”
And while the physical scars may be evident, there can be unseen emotional damage taking place concurrently.
“If you think about that 4-year-old, and not every 4-year-old is the same ... if you think about what that experience must have been like for them, in terms of how much fear do they have, how anxious they might be, one of the most damaging parts of abuse, whether it’s a child witnessing intimate partner or domestic violence or actually being a victim themselves, is that the place most children tend to go to is that somehow it’s their fault,” Harper said.
They are also often burdened with carrying the secret of abuse happening in their family.
Social media has been credited with changing and broadening the tone and direction of the discussion about domestic violence in light of the revelations involving Rice, Peterson and other players. On Friday, under growing criticism that the NFL was not taking domestic violence seriously, league Commissioner Roger Goodell announced new initiatives that include financial support of programs that help domestic violence victims and a harder stance going forward on athlete misbehavior.
“When (the Rice case) first came out, the voices were being shaped by the NFL and them protecting themselves,” said Janet Forte, a licensed clinical social worker and assistant clinical professor in VCU’s Department of Psychiatry and for the VCU’s Institute for Women’s Health.
“The good piece has been that the voices of victims have come out,” Forte said. “So people can hear why women stay.
I know there were a lot of initiatives, including a lot of tweets, around why women stay, which hopefully can educate people about how complex this issue is and the significance of us listening to survivors, and why they stay, why they leave, what the concerns are and how we as a community can support women being able to escape the violence.”
The YWCA, which
offers ongoing training on preventing and responding to domestic violence and support and resources for victims, and the VCU Institute for Women’s Health are next month offering a series of lunchtime seminars on domestic violence.
October is recognized as Domestic Violence Awareness Month by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
“We can’t silence what is now so out in the open,” said Lisette Johnson, who lived for years with an abusive husband until a fateful day in October 2009, when he shot her and then killed himself. She survived and now works to prevent domestic violence.
“With this particular incident and the NFL, I think that there’s no going back now,” Johnson said, speaking earlier this week from Williamsburg, where she was attending a statewide conference on reducing domestic violence homicide.
Of 340 total homicides in Virginia last year, 122 were family and intimate partner attacks in which a family member or intimate partner did the killing, according to the Virginia Office of Chief Medical Examiner. Richmond, with 10 such incidents in 2012, had more cases than any other jurisdiction. Chesapeake, Fairfax city, Henrico County and Norfolk each had seven cases.
The homicides represent an extreme and the tip of the iceberg of domestic violence. Nonfatal abuse — kicking, pushing, punching, shoving, beating, whipping and emotional badgering — is more common and just as complex to address.
Looking at the Rice video, Johnson said, it appears Palmer could have easily been fatally wounded by Rice’s blow.
“He could have killed her right there. ... We aren’t thinking in those terms. We are thinking in the terms that he knocked her out and she’s unconscious. There’s a fine line between being unconscious and being killed that way. People are killed that way by their partners. It’s not uncommon,” Johnson said.
Harper said the NFL is on the right track in making resources available to players and to victims. Many domestic violence programs can’t meet the demand for their services, said Kate McCord, spokeswoman for the Virginia Sexual & Domestic Violence Action Alliance.
“I don’t know Ray Rice’s background. I don’t know Adrian Peterson’s background,” Harper said. “My hunch would be there’s probably some dark things living there in terms of damage themselves.
“They need intervention. They need treatment. It’s not like something that they are probably going to be able to change on their own. It comes from a place usually of fear — and that’s not a way to excuse it. But it’s not enough to say people shouldn’t do this or players shouldn’t do this. They have to draw a hard line and say it’s unacceptable and then offer specific interventions.”