FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Friday, September 12, 2014
The level of media attention and public outcry around the Ray Rice case of domestic violence is astonishing. We have not seen this level of public dialogue about domestic violence since the O.J. Simpson trial over 20 years ago. Is it just a coincidence that both cases involved the world of the National Football League and its superstar heroes?
The current public discourse about domestic violence is complex, and there are many layers to peel back to get at the core of the issue. It is not simply about one individual’s assault on his fiancée. It is not simply about an institution’s policy to implement weak sanctions, or a decision to strengthen that policy. It is not about why it is so difficult for victims to simply leave an abusive situation. It is also not simply about the graphic evidence of a brutal assault shown in video footage. No, it is much more complex than any of these elements.
For the first time in over two decades, people seem to be universally talking openly about domestic violence – at their dinner tables, at the water cooler, with their friends, families and coworkers. Everyone has an opinion. But it is important to take a step back and realize that this public conversation involves much more than initially meets the eye.
It is true that the world of the NFL, and football culture in general, exalts physical dominance as a virtue. And there is growing research that domestic violence is an even more common problem among football players than it is in the general population. However, it is illogical to draw a conclusion that football is to blame for domestic violence, just as it is shortsighted to think that punishing one football player for one incident, or firing a Commissioner for neglecting to implement more severe policies sooner, will change the predominant cultural norms that perpetuate domestic violence in our society. The reality is that domestic violence exists not only in families where there are football players, but in all types of families. It is estimated that 1 in 4 women experience domestic violence during their lifetimes, more than 12 million people in the United States per year. In Rhode Island, nearly 10,000 people sought domestic violence victim services in 2013.
As a result, we need to focus on shifting cultural norms that accept or tolerate domestic abuse. If we don’t focus on this kind of social change, we will be back here in another 20 years, expressing outrage, yet again, over another high profile case as if it is the first time it has happened.
We should not need to see a video to be outraged by the prevalence and severity of domestic violence. The words and experiences of survivors speak for themselves. We shouldn’t rush to point fingers as if blaming someone for this assault will solve the epidemic of domestic violence that exists in our communities. Instead, we must be catapulted to action by the events and discussions in the media over the past few weeks. To encourage men to step up, raise this issue, and have difficult conversations among other men about masculinity and violence. To acknowledge the intersections of our discourse with race and gender oppression. To create opportunities for communities to get involved, for bystanders to learn how to intervene effectively, and for institutions to reflect on and strengthen their policies around domestic violence.
And through it all, we must never forget that today, here in Rhode Island, there are 57 victims of domestic violence in shelters because their homes are not safe. Every one of them, and the dozens more who called the Helpline looking for services this week, deserve our full effort to change society so that all of our institutions, not just the NFL, send a strong message that domestic violence will not be tolerated.
Help is available in Rhode Island. Our six local member agencies provide a wide range of services for victims, including 24-hour hotline support and emergency shelter. Call the statewide Helpline at 800-494-8100 for more information. As a bystander, there are many ways to get involved. To learn more about domestic violence and how to take action to end it, visit www.ricadv.org or call us at 401-467-9940. If you see someone being hurt, call 911 immediately.
- Deborah DeBare, Executive Director, Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence