When Football executive and former NFL player Troy Vincent appeared before a Senate committee examining the NFL’s handling of domestic violence and sexual assault, he became the unexpected face of domestic abuse, if only for a moment. While looking to convince the panel that the NFL was cleaning up its act in this regard, Mr. Vincent offered emotional and painful testimony as he shared his own childhood experiences watching his mother get beaten unconscious by his father.
The sight of a powerfully built former athlete, his voice quivering, makes clear the devastating effect of domestic violence on all concerned. As well, that such abuse is normalized and passed down through generations making both the abused and the abuser see this as a normal part of daily life. It is anything but normal, yet in 2014, we still see too many attempts to sweep this criminal behavior under the rug.
Sharing a video of Vincent’s testimony, the Huffington Post also reported that “Commissioners of the four major national sports leagues” were notably absent from the hearing, sending the message that they do not take an end to domestic violence seriously. Despite Mr. Vincent’s heartfelt efforts, how much is likely to change?
PBS recently reported this staggering fact:
“Approximately 1,500 women are killed each year by husbands or boyfriends. About 2 million men per year beat their partners, according to the F.B.I.”
Make that 1,501. On Thanksgiving day, Cornell University student Shannon Jones was murdered by her boyfriend Benjamin Cayea. Cayea admitted to strangling her, saying the following:
“She would not stop coming at me, she would not stop yelling. I did it, I choked her.”
The shocking nature of this and so many other crimes brings into sharp focus how far we still have to go to bring about an end to domestic violence.
PBS further reported:
“Most experts say there is no one profile of men who batter or beat women. Domestic violence crosses all social and economic boundaries. According to Dr. Susan Hanks, Director of the Family and Violence Institute in Alameda, California, men batter because of internal psychological struggles. Usually, men who batter are seeking a sense of power and control over their partners or their own lives, or because they are tremendously dependent on the woman and are threatened by any moves on her part toward independence.”
And for those who blame the woman and say “why doesn’t she just leave the bum?”:
“Women are at highest risk of injury or violence when they are separating from or divorcing a partner.”
Last week’s Senate hearing was likely precipitated by Baltimore Raven’s running back Ray Rice punching his then fiancée Janay Palmer unconscious and then dragging her out of an elevator like a sack of potatoes. This incident occurred months ago, and was first treated by the NFL as a public relations problem. At their original press conference, Ms. Palmer spent more time apologizing than Ray Rice did. Not until the outcry against the video evidence reached a fever pitch was this man suspended. Not surprisingly, that suspension has been overturned. More troubling, last week’s spate of Today Show and CNN interviews focused on Janay’s efforts to rehabilitate Rice’s career and image rather than Rice being grilled for his violent and disrespectful treatment of the woman he claims is the love of his life.
This would not be the first time violence has been committed by sports figures who are idolized. The behavior is all too easily excused, sending a horrid message that accountability does not exist and anything can be forgiven – whether or not the behavior has yet been punished, amended or resolved. What is the woman’s assurance that it won’t happen again? Why is the burden on the wife to answer for her husband’s abuse, leaving us to try to make sense of why a woman would stay with a man who would treat her this way?
Once again, the bulk of media attention is being focused on the victim and not the perpetrator. Many focus blame on Janay Rice for not leaving the man she has been with since she was 14 years old. It is simplistic to say she doesn’t want to lose her “meal ticket.” Or that she’s “stupid for staying and deserves what she gets.” The focus should not be on “why does she stay with him?” The focus should be “how do we make him stop?”
Something is wrong with the abuser. Not the abused.
Having viewed abusive relationships up close, I can tell you that the male often tells the female “you are worthless, you are nothing without me, you are stupid, you are ugly, you are fat, you don’t do anything right, no one else would want you, I don’t like your friends. They are bad for you.” If one hears that in subtle and overt ways day in and year out, over time, those negative messages become easier to believe. A ghost knows who to scare.
Violence often accompanies such insults.
Until we realize that the relentless focus of abuse has to be on the perpetrator and the ‘why’ of his actions, instead of racing to “rehabilitate” his image, any statements made by abusers are likely to be little more than contrite, staged sound bites and the behavior will continue unabated.
As to Mrs. Rice’s claims that this knockout punch was a one-time happening, if a man’s “first offense” is to knock a woman unconscious, that does not bode well – nor does it ring true.
When do women get to stop being punching bags? When do we stop blaming the victim? And in answer to the title question, perhaps domestic violence will not stop until more men like Mr. Vincent relate their own experiences, call out other perpetrators and demand an end. Clearly women shouting from the highest hill has not yet accomplished that mission. The majority of violence is committed by men, therefore it will take a much bigger majority of non-violent men to put an end to domestic violence.
Original version published at Anita Finlay’s blog. Reposted, in full, with permission of the author.