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Do me a favor and start a stopwatch now.
Last February, Baltimore Ravens’ running back Ray Rice was recorded dragging a limp Janay Palmer, his girlfriend, out of an elevator in Atlantic City. He and Palmer were both charged with simple assault domestic violence. The charge against Palmer was later dropped, but Rice was indicted by a grand jury for aggravated assault and will complete a program for first-time offenders.
Unless you were a Ravens’ fan, you may not have heard about any of this until the National Football League announced on July 24 that Rice would be suspended for two games.* Immediately, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell faced criticism. (In comparison, Broncos fans will remember that Von Miller was suspended for six games for being in violation of the league’s drug rules). “It says a lot about the NFL’s tolerance of that behavior,” says Amy Miller, executive director of the Colorado Coalition Against Domestic Violence (CCADV). “Is that a larger reflection of societal attitudes towards domestic violence?”
That question prompted me to ask Miller and Victoria McVicker, CEO of SafeHouse Denver, a nonprofit that helps shelter and support victims of domestic violence, about ways that people can help fight—even stop—domestic violence.
1. STUDY UP: People sometimes think of domestic violence as only a physical, violent act. Often, though, violence is an escalation of dominant behaviors, including verbal abuse and control. “Some of the most hellish cases are non-physical,” McVicker says. (You can find information about identifying abuse on the SafeHouse Denver website.)
2. KNOW HOW TO RESPOND: Miller says that once educated, you might recognize violent relationships around you—at work, at school, at home—and the next step is to know what to do. She recommends Jefferson County-based Family Tree for friends and family, but also puts an emphasis on talking to abusers and holding them accountable for their actions. “It would be nice to see people putting pressure on the abuser to change their behavior,” Miller says. “You don’t see much outright rejection of someone in the community to indicate that this behavior can’t continue.”
3. STOP BLAMING THE VICTIM: “There is a lot of focus on the victim in terms of what you need to do to protect yourself," Miller says. "There’s so much onerous put on women, in particular, as the primary victims of domestic violence, to get out of the situation. The script needs to be flipped.” A common questions is, “Why didn’t he or she leave?” But abandoning a relationship is rarely simple; victims take, on average, seven attempts to be successful in ending a relationship. It helps if family and friends understand that this is a long-term struggle.
4. GET INVOLVED: October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, but you can make a difference today by volunteering to answer calls at SafeHouse Denver’s 24-Hour Crisis and Information Line or donating funds to the CCADV.
5. CHANGE POLICY: Although not always the case, Denver has made significant efforts in recent years to fight domestic violence, which I wrote about in “Escape” (May, 2014). Still, laws need to be honed and evaluated. Some topics that will need to be studied and debated in the future include the classification of domestic violence charges or finding better ways to address the pattern of domestic violence. “There is still a lot of misunderstanding,” Miller says. “There are still people that feel like that isn't our problem as a society; that it is a private family issue. In some ways we've come a long way but we're not at the tipping point where there is intolerance for domestic violence.”
Pause your stopwatch now. As you read this, every dozen or so clicks on that watch means that another woman was beaten, assaulted, or strangled in the United States. As I wrote in “Escape”:
“You also know these women. One in four females will be the victim of domestic violence. She could be your mother, sister, friend, or co-worker, stuck in a controlling relationship in which her partner uses manipulation, humiliation, violence, and other means to maintain control over her. (Ninety percent of all victims are women and most of the perpetrators are male.) Most shockingly, domestic violence is so vastly underreported, you may never actually know.”
*9/8/14 Editor's Note: After additional footage of the February elevator incident was released (in it, Rice is seen punching Palmer and dragging her limp body), Rice was indefinitely suspended. The NFL has also established that the punishment for first-time domestic violence offenses will be a six-game suspension. A second offense would result in an indefinite ban.
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