Between the years 2003 and 2012 domestic violence accounted for 21% of all violent crime reported in the United States. [BJS] So, why does it take the dismissal of a star athlete in a nationally adored sport to get our attention? Yes, Ray Rice has been dismissed from the Baltimore Ravens NFL team, an action which has drawn universal praise for the Ravens front office – however, as the statistic should illustrate, Mr. Rice is certainly not alone.
“…a pattern of abusive behavior in any relationship that is used by one partner to gain or maintain power and control over another intimate partner. Domestic violence can be physical, sexual, emotional, economic, or psychological actions or threats of actions that influence another person. This includes any behaviors that intimidate, manipulate, humiliate, isolate, frighten, terrorize, coerce, threaten, blame, hurt, injure, or wound someone.”
The Department of Justice goes further, identifying elements which are components of domestic violence: The abuse may be physical, sexual, emotional, economic, and/or psychological. [DoJ] In the instance of Mr. Rice, the behavior was clearly physical. However, when an organization such as the NFL, or any other corporation for that matter, announces a Zero Tolerance policy for domestic violence what is it talking about?
Mr. Rice’s behavior in the elevator was obviously physical, and just as obviously abusive. The incident was also highly visible. Perhaps at this point it’s important to ask what if the abuse in question isn’t obviously physical, and isn’t documented on video for all the world to eventually see?
What if the abuse is within the confines of the household, and is primarily sexual? What if the abuse constituted marital rape? Here we find the radical conservatives hawking the notion that there is no such thing as spousal rape. Consider Richard Black, Virginia state senator now running for Congress:
The rabidly conservative Republican was one of the state delegates who argued against criminalizing spousal rape in 2002, asking his fellow assemblymen, “How on earth you could validly get a conviction of a husband-wife rape when they’re living together, sleeping in the same bed, she’s in a nightie, and so forth, there’s no injury, there’s no separation or anything.” [TDB]
“She’s in a nightie, and so forth…?” Mr. Black’s line of argument appears to be if it’s difficult to prove then it ought not be prosecuted? If she’s in her night clothes that’s an invitation to rape? Is this comparable to “if her skirt is too short?” Black is, unfortunately, not an outlier. Remember Senate candidate Todd Akin’s reference to “legitimate rape?” Or, Richard Mourdock’s commentary on a rape caused pregnancy being what God intended? [TDB]
And then the unreconstructed harridan of the Right, Phyllis Schlafly chimed in:
I think that when you get married you have consented to sex. That’s what marriage is all about, I don’t know if maybe these girls missed sex ed. That doesn’t mean the husband can beat you up, we have plenty of laws against assault and battery. If there is any violence or mistreatment that can be dealt with by criminal prosecution, by divorce or in various ways. When it gets down to calling it rape though, it isn’t rape, it’s a he said-she said where it’s just too easy to lie about it. [RWW]
In other words, once you’ve said “I do” it’s I will and I will and I will? In order for a rape to be a rape there has to be such physical violence as to be the visible result of a battery? If there is ‘mistreatment’ there are laws which might be applied? What laws? According to her lights, not the laws against sexual assault. She can divorce him, but do so in the knowledge that what he did to her he may now do to others? And, it’s “just too easy to lie about it?” Mrs. Schlafly is now dredging down into “Beware little boys, she’s probably going to cry rape or pregnancy if you have sex with her” territory.
What the Right wants to ignore is the fundamental definition of domestic violence. It’s not a matter of who meant what when they said, “I do,” it’s “a pattern of abusive behavior in any relationship that is used by one partner to gain or maintain power and control over another intimate partner.” Physical or sexual violence in this instance isn’t a matter of merely forcing an unwilling partner to engage in sex for the pleasure of the partner – It’s sex used as a weapon to gain or maintain power and control.
Would the NFL, or any other corporate entity take a Zero Tolerance stance against economic abusive behavior – in which the victim is controlled by the purse strings? Would they be intolerant of a person who took complete control of the family finances, excluding the partner from any control over any spending money? Would they be intolerant of an abuser who refused to allow a spouse to continue her education? To take on a paying job? These kinds of power games aren’t going to show up on casino video screens, but they are all too common as forms of spousal abuse. In this instance, it’s money used as a weapon to gain or maintain power and control.
How about emotional abuse – continuous and continual denigration, constant assaults on the spouse’s self esteem – the message is relatively clear: “You are incapable of functioning without me, and therefore I will be incomplete control” Or, what of psychological abuse – creating an atmosphere of fear by intimidation, threats to the victim and the children, the destruction of personal property or pets, or forcing isolation from family and friends? Now we have words, and force, used as weapons to gain or maintain power and control.
Verizon has taken a corporate stand against domestic violence, framing it correctly as a public health problem – women who have been abused are more likely to experience more chronic health problem. A number of corporations have partnered with Domestic Violence Solutions in Santa Barbara, California, which offers a 40 hour training program on domestic violence and its ramifications targeted for therapists, medical personnel, social service professionals, law enforcement personnel, volunteers, and friends and family. General Electric requires a criminal background check, including any references to domestic violence, for employment in its aviation division. [DL GE] The corporation is quite clear about not tolerating sexual harassment in the workplace, but its manual doesn’t directly address domestic violence away from work.
Other corporations are involved with the Corporate Alliance to End Partner Violence. This organization has been functioning since the mid 1990’s toward a more general vision: “We envision enhanced corporate profitability through reduction of rising expenses related to partner violence, such as health care costs and expenses due to low productivity, high turnover, and absenteeism.”
While corporate efforts to prevent domestic violence are laudable, it’s difficult for an employer to discern which employees might be perpetrators of domestic violence. Some of the strategies used to hide the abuse are associated with being a ‘good guy’ on the shop floor or in the cubicles. Among the prevalent behavior strategies used by abusers are: (1) Having a very different public and private persona. (2) Projecting blame. (3) Claiming loss of control or anger management issues, (4) Minimizing or denying the abusive behavior. [CW.gov] Likewise, it can often be difficult to determine who’s the victim when the physical injuries are hidden, or explained away, or the victim conceals problems out of shame, apprehension, or fear. [CW.gov]
So, here’s to the National Football League and the Baltimore Ravens for sending a strong message: We don’t condone domestic violence. And, here’s hoping for several improvements in the way we address the issue of domestic violence in America.
(1) Every corporation in America should have a written policy on domestic violence. The policy should provide guidelines for handling abusers, and for providing help for victims. Direct policy statements aren’t just the right thing to do, but as the CAEPV points out there are direct economic benefits for corporations which implement zero tolerance policies.
(2) Every major employer, public and private, should acknowledge in its policy statements that domestic violence also includes the less visible elements of economic, emotional, and psychological abuse.
(3) Every major employer, public and private, should have personnel available as part of its human relations divisions who are trained to deal with cases of domestic violence – of all kinds not only physical and sexual — and there should be clear directives about immediately assisting employees in need. In other words, the Shelter should be on speed-dial.
(4) Every major employer, public and private, should have the same concern for its brand (or “Shield”) as evidenced by the Ravens, i.e. domestic violence is never acceptable in any form, and those guilty of it (in any form) will face immediate dismissal.
It doesn’t matter if she’s the ‘little woman’ at home, it doesn’t matter if she said “I do,” it doesn’t matter if she’s in a nightie, it doesn’t matter if she’s not in a casino elevator on camera – it only matters that there is a victim and an abuser, and the abusers aren’t so valuable to any organization or institution that they can’t be replaced.