Monday, September 22, 2014

Domestic Violence in the NFL: We Challenge You!

September 17, 2014

Recent events surrounding the NFL, the Baltimore Ravens, and Ray Rice have vaulted conversations about domestic violence to headline status. We at Tahoe SAFE Alliance applaud the NFL for taking new and progressive steps in response to NFL players who commit domestic violence and the Baltimore Raven’s for releasing Ray Rice because of his actions.  However we feel that the new policies and reactionary punishments will not be sufficient in preventing violence against women by players in the NFL.   Much more needs to be done including on-going, progressive prevention and education efforts. 

Since 2000 80 NFL players have been arrested for domestic violence. The total amount of games those players were suspended for? 11. Most of those suspensions were for one game and handed out to those players who plead guilty. It is also important to note the combined time that these players spent in jail? Less than 10 days. 

Make no mistake; the difference between the Ray Rice incident and other NFL domestic violence incidents is that Rice committed his crime in a space that happened to be being filmed. Shortly after the NFL revised its policy on handling domestic violence incidents, San Francisco 49ers defensive tackle Ray McDonald was arrested on felony suspicion of domestic abuse.  49ers coach Jim Harbaugh, and NFL Commissioner Goodell have chosen not to take action with any penalty while the case is “being looked into”. 

 Their reasoning?  The NFL has traditionally not gotten involved in issues of domestic abuse unless there is a conviction or some damning evidence.  However, national statistics show that only a small percentage of individuals arrested for domestic violence are ultimately convicted. The reason?  Attackers in domestic abuse have an advantage most criminals don’t.  They have an intimate relationship with their victim and know how to appeal for sympathy. All too often in domestic violence cases the victims are silenced by their relationship.

The recent incidents in the NFL are catapulting domestic violence to the forefront of our nation’s attention. 

 However, domestic violence in our society has remained a serious problem in the United States. One in 4 women will experience domestic violence in their lifetime. An estimated 1.3 million women are victims of physical assault by an intimate partner every year. But more importantly, domestic violence kills: more than 3 women a day lose their lives at the hand of their abuser.  In fact, Nevada ranks #5 in the nation in domestic violence murders.  And, these numbers are low when you consider most cases of domestic violence are never reported to the police.  Just like reported NFL domestic violence issues are only a fraction of the total number of instances. 

 In addition to the immediate trauma of the abuse inflicted on victims of domestic violence, both physical and emotional, victims are often re- traumatized by a society that all too often blames them for the violence that was inflicted upon. Victims of domestic violence stay in abusive relationships (and may defend their abuser) for all sorts of reasons: love, fear, embarrassment, children/family, and economic isolation, among many others. It takes profound strength, and often many attempts (on average 8), for a victim to leave an abusive relationship. These survivors should be praised for their strength, rather than blamed for not leaving.   

We should all be asking victims “How can I help?” instead of “Why do you stay?”   

Last year, Tahoe SAFE Alliance provided direct services to 787 survivors of domestic/intimate partner violence, sexual violence, and child abuse in North Lake Tahoe and Truckee.  Of this, 425 were survivors of violence and abuse who received services such as safe housing, counseling and support, filing Emergency Protective and Temporary Restraining Orders, and assistance with divorce and child custody issues.  Furthermore, we work hard every single day to create a violence free culture by educating school children, local businesses, and community members on violence prevention, safety, and healthy relationships. 

Recently, the NFL announced it has tapped 4 women experienced in crimes against women to help craft the development and implementation of the league's policies, resources, and outreach on issues of domestic violence and sexual assault. This includes Rita Smith, the former Executive Director of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. We at Tahoe SAFE Alliance applaud these latest efforts and, while this is a step in the right direction, we challenge the NFL to use their public platform to demonstrate leadership when setting policies that other sports franchises and business and industry, can adopt and model.  This includes providing progressive, comprehensive, and on-going education to teach players about healthy relationships and information on ending violence against women.   

Tahoe SAFE Alliance believes violence is a learned behavior and therefore can be prevented.  We call on all men in our community to stand up and take responsibility for their actions and words and to be role models to our youth.   Together, we can stop abuse and make our community a safe place for everyone. To donate, volunteer, or get involved go to

Karen S. Carey
Executive Director
Tahoe SAFE Alliance