A special guest post is headlining Blazer's Edge today in place of our usual staff writing. Occassia, one of our readers, is a self-professed "writer, artist, and basketeering enthusiast". She's also done research into the field of domestic violence and compiled a post answering many of the questions brought up over the last two weeks across the sports world. She's been conservative in accepting sources, reserved in her interpretations. It's as close to a down-the-middle treatise on the subject as you can get. She's agreed to post it here for our benefit.
Before she takes the floor, let me make a declaration: this is a sports subject. Once upon a time you might have been able to argue it wasn't, letting domestic violence hide behind the cloak of illusion and denial it seeks to weave around itself. As recently as a couple months ago we might have been free to pretend that this doesn't happen to athletes, doesn't affect their families or fans. We have the video that proves differently now. We have the sea of judgment surrounding that video and incidents like it. We're going to have more in the future. This issue isn't going away. We will have to deal with it again.
Even this might not be justification in some people's minds for running this post on a sports site. The tipping point for me came not with the Ray and Janay Rice story (atypical only because it was caught on tape in public) but with the flurry of discussion that followed...discussion conducted almost exclusively by males, almost exclusively without research, almost exclusively without (or worse, over) the voices of experts in the field or any women at all. Much of that discussion was misleading and fruitless. Some was harmful. As people who participate in sports discussion, both here and partaking in the national dialogue, we cannot let the story end there.
This is why Occassia has crafted this piece. This is why we're publishing it. We need to know more about this topic if we're to discuss it. And again, we're guaranteed to face it in the future. You never know which team or community will be affected by it, including ours. If and when the discussion starts again, maybe we'll be better informed, more able to prioritize issues, more aware of our words and their power to help or harm.
Let's be clear here. If you're going to be frustrated that this topic holds the top post at our site today, you need to direct that frustration towards abusers...towards those complicit in keeping the topic--or even the existence of domestic violence--a whispered secret...towards those who support abusers (wittingly or not) by their words and proclamations...towards sportscasters who butcher the topic or co-opt it for their own benefit...towards those who describe pain to a woman and child that they'll remember, fear, and maybe pay for the rest of their days as, "Gee, the NFL is having a bad week". We ask you not to direct that frustration towards one woman with the drive to do the research, with the compassion for our community and for domestic violence victims to author this post, with the courage to share it in a male-dominated and sometimes unfriendly sports world. We also ask you to refrain from filling the comment section with debate about whether we should be discussing this subject. We are because we have to.
Now I'm going to do what us sports media folks probably should have done from the first moment this story broke: shut up and let someone who knows what they're talking about have the floor. Here's your fellow reader Occassia with a list of questions and topics often brought up on the rare occasions domestic violence is mentioned.
Are Americans more violent toward women than people in other countries?
No, and yes. Globally, an average of one in three women experience physical or sexual violence during their lifetime. In the US and in other developed countries the rate is a little lower than the global average. In some portions of Africa, for example, three of every four women are abused. In Japan, on the other hand, less than one in five women report abuse.
Aren't these just isolated incidents of poor anger management?
Some are, but it's likely to be habitual abusers who find themselves in police custody or in the public eye. Many abusive relationships follow a cyclical pattern, with violent episodes recurring at more or less regular intervals.
The four phases of the Cycle of Abuse, Avaduyn, 10 April 2009. [Wikipedia]
Anger is often a component of domestic abuse, but it is generally understood that patterns of abusive behavior are driven by one partner's need for power and control over the other. This assessment is supported by the many other behaviors typical of abusers: harassment, intimidation, forced or coerced isolation from friends and family; belittling, insults and humiliation; threats of harm to loved ones or pets, threats of suicide; monitoring personal email or cell phone communications; seizing car keys, money, credit cards or other resources for independence.
I don't know anybody in an abusive relationship -how can abuse rates be so high?
Statistically speaking, you almost certainly do know someone in an abusive relationship, and simply haven't recognized it.
Those who abuse their partners are usually careful do so in private, and their partners may be the sole target of their violence. Sometimes a targeted partner doesn't recognize that their relationship is abusive, particularly if physical violence is not a frequent occurrence.
Controlling and abusive people blame their behavior on others so relentlessly that partners and family members often come to believe the abuse is in fact their fault. As is the case with alcoholism or incest, families experiencing abuse may feel intense shame, and try to keep it hidden from others. This may be particularly true in middle class and upper class households which have "more to lose."
A relationship might be abusive if someone:
Seems over-anxious to please their partner
Must check in frequently with their partner
Asks for a partner's permission to meet friends, go shopping, etc.
Lacks self-esteem and confidence, especially if it grows progressively worse
Apologizes and takes blame for things they didn't do
Often misses work, school, or social activities
Seems isolated from friends and family
Lacks ready access to money, credit cars, or transportation
Describes their partner as possessive, jealous or having a bad temper
Rationalizes their partner's more questionable behaviors
Is often injured, and/or attempts to conceal injuries
Offers unconvincing explanations for injuries
NNEDV: Red Flags of Abuse
Why choose an abusive person in the first place?
People fall in love.
Given current shortages in the supply of saints, most of us fall in love with imperfect people. At one time or another we've all loved someone with an alcohol or drug problem, extravagant spending habits, a gambling addiction, a penchant for gossip and drama, who lies or cheats, is subject to extreme racial prejudice, or (horror of horrors) detests basketball.
Often these flaws are not obvious until after the courtship period. In fact, a "whirlwind romance" is a common feature of relationships later found to be abusive. Abusive men are often charming, seductive, passionate, and demonstrative -in the beginning. The first instance of battery is often followed by tearful apologies and vows to never do it again. Most such vows are not kept.
Some with abusive childhoods may be drawn to abusive relationships, but most who find themselves with an abusive partner have little or no previous experience of victimization. They don't enter abusive relationships due to mental or emotional problems -but they may emerge with such problems.
Hey, what about domestic violence against men?
It happens, and it's almost certainly under-reported. Indeed, it's estimated that more than half of all domestic violence incidents (regardless of perpetrator) are not reported to authorities.
However, the best estimates are that 85% of domestic violence is committed by men against women. The remaining 15% accounts for men battered by women and for abuse that takes place in same-sex relationships. In other words, out of every ten Americans adults who experience domestic violence, eight or nine are female.
When men abuse, they tend to do more damage: globally about 38% of murdered women are killed by intimate partners, but only 6% of murdered men; in the US three women die every day at the hands of their partners. Without minimizing danger to men, violence against women is a much larger problem in sheer numerical terms.
Doesn't domestic abuse mostly happen in poor, uneducated families?
Although many features of poverty increase the risk of domestic violence, they don't cause it, and not everyone who is identified as "at risk" becomes involved in violence.
Rates of domestic violence are somewhat higher in poor communities and communities of color, but abusive behavior is found in every demographic group. Hard numbers are tough to come by, but there is a great deal of anecdotal evidence that educated, professional, financially stable couples are not immune to abuse.
Isn't this a private family matter, something between partners?
No. For one thing, children who witness ongoing domestic violence growing up are three to four times more likely to abuse or to be abused as adults. They are also more vulnerable to emotional and mental health problems, and behavior that can disrupt schools, churches, and workplaces.
An abuser's need to control and isolate a partner can devastate relationships with family, friends, neighbors, and coworkers. Victims of abuse miss an estimated 8 million days of work in a year. Medical and mental health costs may exceed $8 billion annually, plus an additional incalculable amount in criminal justice expenses.
If he's served his time or been through a treatment program, it's been handled, right?
Given low reporting rates, it can be difficult to assess the effectiveness of prison sentences or intervention. General consensus in the field is that treatment programs can be effective if 1) modification of belief systems is emphasized and 2) an abuser is strongly motivated to change behavior. Since participation is usually state-mandated (as an alternative to jail time) incentives to get through the program may be stronger than incentives to engage in challenging personal work.
Some studies suggest that existing treatment programs are not very effective. They aren't often evaluated and experts agree there is plenty of room for improvement. Most also concur that neither couples' counseling nor anger management training are helpful options for abusers and do little to alter abusive behavior.
What did she do to provoke him?
In the case of an habitual abuser, it can take very little -sometimes nothing at all-to "provoke" violence. Such a person is less influenced by the behavior of others than by an internal need to control and dominate another.
In some abusive relationships both partners are combative, but people living with abuse often describe their lives as constantly "walking on eggshells" to avoid upsets. Many report that no matter how hard they try to earn their partner's approval, it's impossible to do so.
Even in a simple cause-and-effect scenario, one would also need to ask, "What did he do to provoke her?" And what kind of provocation "merits" broken bones, knife wounds, burns, concussion, loss of consciousness, or death?
Why not just leave the relationship?
Most relationships begin with the promise of love, and partners invest time, energy, and passion hoping to fulfill that promise. When relationships become abusive, many insist that they don't want to leave -they just want the abuse to stop.
Hope for improvement.
A partner's promises to change and the "honeymoon periods" which occur from time to time encourage optimism.
Lack of a support system.
In their drive for domination, abusers may do whatever it takes to isolate partners from friends and family, and to convince them that they are alone and helpless. This also makes it difficult to identify public services which might offer assistance.
Social or religious mores.
It's ingrained in many of us that it's morally wrong or shameful to leave a marriage. Well-meaning friends and family members may stress "compromise" and a "commitment to work it out." Some may therefore realistically fear they won't be supported and may even be shunned.
Lack of resources for independence.
In many cases, a dominating partner will control access to money, credit cards, car keys, cell phones, bank accounts, financial records, and even documents like birth certificates or passports. They may sabotage employment outside the home or any attempts to pursue education or training.
Responsibility for Dependents
Lack of resources puts extra obstacles in the way of leaving if a victim has responsibility for children and other dependents. Before even considering leaving the situation, the victim of domestic violence has to consider how to feed and care for children. Where will they live if the abuser knows the location of friends and family? How will they eat if the victim doesn't have a job or if the abuser knows workplace and schedule, leaving a choice between quitting and losing income or living in constant risk? How will the children continue school and how safe will it be to drop off, pick up, and leave them there?
Living with verbal, psychological and physical abuse can leave invisible scars. A constant stream of criticism, blame, intimidation, insult, and manipulation tends to undermine self-confidence and mental health. Leaving an abusive relationship may require great personal resolve at the most terrifying, weakest point in a person's life.
Leaving is physically dangerous.
Controlling partners have been known to threaten not only the person planning to leave, but pets, children and other dependents. Many threaten to kill themselves, and some act on one or all of their threats.
When an abusive relationship ends in murder, 70% of the time, a woman is killed after she has taken steps to leave. (Portland area residents may remember a 2008 murder-suicide that took place in the parking lot of the West Linn Police department, where a women drove for protection from her estranged husband.)
Domestic Violence support organizations spend much of their time offering non-judgmental counseling, helping victims make safety plans to leave the situation if desired (a good resource: The Path To Safety), and offering assistance if needed: temporary safe places to stay, food for the victim and children. They spend time and resources in this manner because they understand that leaving an abusive situation is neither easy nor simple. It's the single most dangerous time in the entire cycle of abuse.
Conclusion: It's far easier to ask the question, "Why doesn't she just leave?" from a distance, from outside an abusive relationship than it is to resolve the matter when you're experiencing abuse.
People trained to work with domestic violence issues understand that the only real way out is for victims to find their own agency, integrity, and power. "Getting out" is the short-term fix. Getting out and being able to live a healthy life is the long-term solution. Little permanent good comes from a victim moving away from an abuser who exerts power and pressure over her without respecting her decisions at the urging of "helpers" who exert power or pressure over her despite her decisions.
Occassia's footnotes follow. I'll leave you with a final thought. Reading her research and analysis, you can see where much of the public discussion following a public incident of domestic violence falls into problematic territory. Some of this stems from a lack of understanding. Some of it stems from putting other priorities over the health and welfare of victims. In a sense that's natural...it often happens in modern public discourse. In this case it's also potentially harmful. Lack of understanding, lack of empathy, and the willingness to put one's own priorities over the health and welfare of another also describes abuse. When we do these things we risk re-offending, hurting victims who have already suffered. We also confirm that misuse of power is justified as long as it serves our needs and world views.
There's no reason for this. But it happens every time folks who wouldn't quote an athlete's salary projection without checking salary cap rules thrice--folks who wouldn't draft a running back for a fantasy team without poring over the stats late into the night--feel free to opine on a subject that's infinitely more complex, subtle, and potentially damaging without research, thought, or inviting a single expert to speak instead.
If you're a sportscaster or discuss sports in any public forum, bookmark this piece for reference. Ask questions. Find out more before offering potentially powerful words without knowing where that power is directed or who it's harming. If you are a survivor of domestic violence we hope we've done OK with this post and we honor your strength and courage. If you are in an abusive relationship, know that people care and support you and your decisions. The national domestic violence hotline can be found through this link. On most browsers you can right-click it to open an anonymous window. Or you can call 1-800-799-7233 | 1-800-787-3224 (TTY) when it's safe.
In the meantime if people have honest questions on the topic (as opposed to argument-starting points to grind) go ahead and ask them in the comment section and we'll try to work through them.
--Dave Deckard, Managing Editor
 World Health Organization, Violence against women: Intimate partner and sexual violence against women, Fact sheet N°239, Updated October 2013
 World Health Organization, Violence against women: Intimate partner and sexual violence against women, WHO Publication reference number: 978 92 4 156462 5, October 2013
 "Violent Childhood Experiences and the Risk of Intimate Partner Violence in Adults: Assessment in a Large Health Maintenance Organization," CL Whitfield, RF Anda, SR Dube, VJ. Felitti, J Interpers Violence February 2003 vol. 18 no. 2 166-185
 Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, Intimate Partner Violence: Consequences
Babcock JC, Green CE, Robie C, Clinical Psychology Review 2004 Jan;23(8):1023-53.