While on vacation, I didn’t want to think too much about Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson or Jonathan Dwyer. Still even in remote areas of South Dakota and Wyoming, CNN was on the TVs of pizzerias and I wasn’t able to avoid it entirely. Now that I’m back to work, I’ve been taking stock of all that’s emerged and some of it is really important – though it’s too bad that it took all these high profile news stories to get it all to surface.
So one thing to make clear – domestic violence is not an NFL problem. By that I mean that domestic violence is not the problem of any one industry or field. It is a societal problem. For every revered NFL player who is an abuser, there is also a popular actor who is an abuser, an admired politician who is an abuser, a beloved teacher who is an abuser, etc. Domestic violence is not something that happens to “certain others” but rather it happens within all of our communities, neighborhoods, towns and social circles. It is the problem of all of us and until we as a society can recognize that, it is going to be very difficult to eradicate it.
Much of society effectively condones domestic violence by victim-blaming and failing to demand justice and better response from systems. That said, the NFL is notoriously apathetic in addressing violence against women. And so the silver lining, if you can call it that, in all this bad news is that awareness is being raised and attention being paid. There has been a huge and courageous outpouring of survivor explanations for why they stayed. Not that they owe anyone any explanations but hopefully from their disclosures more understanding and compassion will arise.
I also liked Leslie Morgan Steiner’s GIF about domestic violence, which has re-surfaced recently with all the media focus on DV. I particularly like this one-
What I would add to that is that in charming and seducing survivors in this initial stage, abusers rush through the early phases of the relationship. Survivors talk about a whirlwind relationship and disclose that their partners told them that they loved them early on. This creates a false sense of intimacy that feels very real. And if it feels that way and you find yourself in such a situation, you may find yourself jumping to stages in the relationship that you know normally wouldn’t happen so quickly. You trust this person, they’re your best friend and like any best friend, you can tell them anything. What you don’t know is that abusers are very good at picking up on people’s vulnerabilities (and we all have vulnerabilities). An abuser’s radar for vulnerability and their ability to make people feel close to them is a dangerous combination. And so survivors think they are entering this wonderful relationship but really, they are being pushed into a relationship too quickly and disclosing very personal information about themselves – information that will likely be used against them later.
So that’s important to keep in mind. While there is manipulation going on from the start, it does not feel or look that way.
Another important thing to keep in mind is safety and restorative justice. Janay Rice’s safety was likely very jeopardized when the video of the abuse was released. In addition, when I talk about systems’ responses, I’d propose that society learn and adapt to a model of following the survivor’s lead. This means that some times, maybe many times, the criminal justice system won’t be involved – because let’s face it, more often than not, abusers are not prosecuted or aren’t found guilty and survivors are re-traumatized. Rather, restorative justice would explore other options. Restorative justice could involve safe options that allow a survivor to stay in her community (rather than leave it to go to DV shelter) or it could mean abusers being required to go to Batterers’ Intervention. Restorative justice would also mean it’s unlikely that if something horrific happens to you, the entire world will end up seeing it, especially not without your consent. Seriously, think about how traumatic it must be for Janay Rice to know that video is out there being viewed all the time – I can’t even imagine. Restorative justice acknowledges trauma and re-traumatization are very real and harmful. Restorative justice aims to let survivors do what they need to do so they can heal and get some peace of mind. And that’s what I call justice.