NFL Gets Domestic Violence Right After Further Review

By Barry Goldstein

Roger Goodell responded to criticism of his lenient punishment of Ray Rice by conducting a new and better investigation.  This led to a new decision, not on the Rice case, but on future practices.  From now on NFL players and other employees who engage in domestic violence assaults will receive a minimum penalty of a six game suspension.  A second violation will result in an indefinite suspension.  The offender can apply to be reinstated after one year but there is no guarantee the request will be granted.  Longer suspensions will be considered when there are aggravating circumstances such as an assault of a pregnant woman, presence of a child or strangulation.

This is a good decision that sends a strong message that domestic violence is not to be tolerated.  The research establishes that only accountability and monitoring are likely to change abusers’ behavior.  Football players often have short careers because of the risk of injury in a violent sport and tremendous competition for the limited number of jobs.  In this context six games out of a 16 game season is significant to a player’s career and to the hopes for his team to make the playoffs.  In most cases playing professionally is the best chance for financial success and security.  The prospect of losing this opportunity by abusing his partner is likely to discourage this heinous crime.  When the penalty is imposed other players will see the harm to the player’s career and have a strong incentive to avoid such a meaningful consequence.

Contrary to earlier mistaken assumptions, men do not abuse their partners because of mental illness, substance abuse, lack of control or the actions of his partner.  They do so based on a belief that they are entitled to coerce and control their partner to do what he wants.  This is based on a long history of husbands having exactly this privilege.  Men can control their behavior and routinely do so by for instance waiting until they are alone before assaulting her.  Accordingly, the risk of career threatening sanctions will strongly discourage NFL players from assaulting their partners at least during their playing career.  The sanctions will also serve to send a strong message both to players and fans that society is no longer willing to tolerate men’s abuse of women.

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Roger Goodell Learned from the Experts

In my previous article criticizing the NFL response to Ray Rice’s criminal behavior, I pointed out that Commissioner Goodell had failed to consult with domestic violence experts.  This is a common mistake throughout society including our courts.  We now have a substantial specialized body of knowledge about domestic violence and genuine experts.  The problem is that most people have had some connection to intimate partner violence either personally or someone they know.  This creates a false confidence that they understand the issues so there is no need to seek expertise.

The Saunders’ study from the U.S. Department of Justice found that the standard and required training of evaluators, judges and lawyers does not provide them with the specific knowledge about domestic violence needed to protect children in custody cases with abuse allegations.  Many of these professionals have received some training and it has created the worst of all possible situations.  The limited training creates a false sense of competency so the professionals rarely seek assistance from genuine experts or current research.  Children involved in contested custody cases pay a horrific price because of these flawed practices.

The Quincy Solution demonstrates that society has the ability to dramatically reduce domestic violence crime and in doing so the United States would save $500 billion every year.  The effective responses come from domestic violence experts and the good practices include learning from current research and relying on a multi-disciplinary approach that includes domestic violence advocates.  This time the NFL set a good example by consulting with genuine experts and referencing this good practice in the statements it released.  This provides a good example for other organizations that wish to respond appropriately to domestic violence tactics.

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Accepting Accountability for Mistakes

Commissioner Goodell made a sincere apology for his mishandling of the case involving Ray Rice.  I want to discuss what he did in detail because in our society it is so rare to see accountability in the context of domestic violence or other offensive conduct especially from a public figure.  Roger Goodell accepted personal responsibility and did not seek to blame others or minimize the harm caused.  And he made a commitment to get it right in the future.  I hope one day his response will be normal, but today he should be commended for his response to his mistake and the criticism he received.  He avoided the most common mistake which is to respond defensively.  The quality of his response is demonstrated by comparing it with the response of other public figures.

Ray Rice made a few separate attempts to respond to his brutal and offensive behavior.  Initially he appeared with his victim and treated his abuse as if there was mutual responsibility.  His partner even apologized to him, but he did not apologize.  His initial response also tended to minimize the harm he caused.  I understand that Rice had to consider that he was facing consequences from the court and the NFL.  Nevertheless approaches that sought to make this a mutual issue, while typical of abusers and some unqualified professionals, are outrageous and compound the harm he caused.  Ray Rice later made a more appropriate apology after the mild sanctions were announced, but only his future behavior will tell us if he was sincere.

The prosecutor in the case allowed Rice to enter a diversion program so that if he is not arrested again in the short term the case will be dismissed with no record, no findings and no significant consequences.  The prosecutor failed more than the victim, Janay Palmer.  This is a very public case and the message sent to abusers is that they can expect to get away with a “first” offense.  One assault is usually enough for an abuser to control his partner because she knows what he is capable of.  The message to victims is that it is not safe to complain and the law will not protect them.  Despite the enormous harm from the mishandling of the criminal case, I have not heard any apology or promises of reform from the District Attorney’s office that failed to provide accountability or the state legislature that needs to prevent ineffective responses to domestic violence crimes.

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The Catholic Church has a horrendous history in their response to the sexual abuse scandal.  Thousands of priests molested children and in many cases church leaders sought to cover-up the scandal which exposed more children to the trauma of sexual abuse.  Church leaders have continued to minimize and attempt to avoid responsibility for this scandal.  In New York and other states they have opposed reform of statutes of limitation that would provide the opportunity for victims to hold their abusers accountable.  The Catholic Church remains the obstacle to passing legislation which would likely improve children’s health and safety.  Pope Francis recently made what appears to be a more sincere apology to victims.  It will be important to see how the Church follows-up in order to determine if this represents the fundamental change in practices that is needed.

The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) has been successful federal policy which was always supported in a bi-partisan manner.  The ACE research demonstrates that this is a law that saves lives and improves the health and safety of women and children.  The Senate continued the bi-partisan tradition with strong support from Democrats and Republicans in the most recent effort to renew VAWA.   A small group of extremist, anti-women Republicans in the House objected to the Senate bill and the Republican leadership held up the bill for more than a year in order not to offend the extremists.  There is no question that law could have passed the House and protected women and children if Republican leaders allowed a vote.  We have not heard any apology from the Republican Party and instead they continue to deny that their policies constitute a war on women.  Research demonstrates that men who abuse women are 30-60% more likely to also abuse children, including sexually.  The ACE research establishes that girls who are sexually abused are far more likely to have an abortion both from the rape and because of subsequent poor decisions regarding sexual behavior.  In other words, a party that claims to be pro-life allowed a small group of extremists to delay passage of a law designed to prevent abuse and in doing so undoubtedly increased the number of abortions in the country.  And still no apology!

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Next Step for the NFL

One of the experts the NFL consulted was Rita Smith, long-time executive director of the NCADV. Rita wrote the foreword for my book,The Quincy Solution: Stop Domestic Violence and Save $500 Billion.  She wrote that peace is more than the absence of violence.  It requires affirmative work to prevent men’s abuse of women.  Roger Goodell did a good job of creating a response when players assault their partners in the future.  But just responding after an assault is not sufficient.  We believe the NFL is in a strong position to help prevent domestic violence which would benefit their players and fans as well as the rest of society.

In her foreword, Rita Smith wrote that the Quincy Solution is exactly what the leaders of the domestic violence movement have been waiting for.  It is a group of proven practices that worked in places like Quincy, San Diego and Nashville to dramatically reduce domestic violence crime and especially murders.  In Quincy, a county that had averaged 5 to 6 domestic violence homicides every year, they enjoyed several years with no murders.  The ACE research demonstrates the direct connection between domestic violence, child abuse and other traumas with many of the most dangerous diseases.  The United States spends $750 Billion annually on health costs related to domestic violence and the total unintended abuser subsidy is over one trillion dollars.  The huge potential financial savings from stopping domestic violence create a huge incentive for public officials to implement the Quincy Solution.

The NFL is in a strong position to help dramatically reduce domestic violence crime.  They have a platform that can be used to quickly inform the public about the ability to prevent most domestic violence and the resources to support the campaign for the Quincy Solution.  A few weeks ago the NFL was another business minimizing and tolerating domestic violence.  Now they have taken an important step to tell their players that assaults on their partners will no longer be tolerated.  We ask them to take one more step to make women and children safe in their homes.

Rita Smith wrote that she can’t help but think about all the courageous women who died and the anguished faces of the children they left behind who could have been saved by the Quincy Solution.  This is an enormous opportunity for our country and for the NFL.  Roger Goodell made a good start by announcing significant penalties for future assaults.  To paraphrase Chris Berman, if the commissioner leads the NFL in support of the Quincy Solution, he could go all the way.