W.O.M.A.N., Inc.’s Point of View on Domestic Violence in the NFL

Given all the recent media attention, we feel the necessity to weigh in on the recent incidents of domestic violence connected to NFL Football players.

The Leadership Team at W.O.M.A.N., Inc. and I were very distraught to hear about the arrest of Ray McDonald and the incident of violence that Ray Rice committed against his then fiancee, Janay Palmer. We connect this situation to the larger issue of holding those who use violence or abuse towards their partners accountable for their actions.

Our hope is that the 49ers will enact the NFL’s Domestic Violence Policy, and suspend anyone who uses violence in their intimate partnerships, including Ray McDonald. Yes, there are complexities at play in these situations (the reponse from the player’s union, the criminal legal system judgement, for instance) nevertheless the policy was put in place for good reason; the NFL (which includes the San Francisco 49ers) need to offer their fans and the larger community a process to enact accountability for violent behavior.

The 20th anniversary of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) just passed. This act passed against all odds, and was confronted with opposition at every turn.   While gathering signatures in support of VAWA 20 years ago, I remember being told that ‘this type of thing (domestic violence) isn’t anyone’s business’.  At the time the general consensus was there was little to no accountability for domestic violence.

Two decades later, it is rewarding to see the progress we’ve made. There is outrage at the recent events of domestic violence committed by Rice and McDonald and discussion around whether professional football players who use abuse should be allowed the privilege of playing for the NFL. The fact that Rice’s contract has been suspended indefinitely is encouraging, and its heartening to see that in his case, the NFL has taken a hard stance against domestic violence. There is a sense that accountability, at least in the case of Rice, is becoming a reality. We hope to see the same happen in McDonald’s situation.

By now you have probably seen the video of Ray Rice punching his then fiancee, Janay Palmer, rendering her unconscious. We implore media outlets to no longer sensationalize this incident and consider the impact of showing this video over and over again. First of all, seeing the incident can be extremely distressing for survivors of domestic violence and others. Beyond the emotional impact, focusing on one incident of physical violence can overshadow the other ways in which domestic violence occurs, including emotional, psychological, verbal, sexual and financial abuse. All forms of abuse can have a corrosive impact on a survivor’s sense of self as well as their mental (and physical) health. All forms of abuse should be abhorred, even those that don’t translate into a video for the nightly news to play repeatedly.

Another challenging aspect for people is Janay’s choice to stay with and then marry Rice. The W.O.M.A.N., Inc. team discussed being confronted with questions about Janay’s choice by family and friends. At W.O.M.A.N., Inc. we respect all survivors’ choices, including Janay’s. Placing the focus on the survivor’s choice distracts from the decision their partners made to use abuse and violence. Instead, of asking ‘why did she stay?’ let’s start asking ‘why does that person feel its appropriate to abuse someone they claim to love?’ Let’s all work on flipping that question and the accountability it infers. Perhaps most importantly let’s remember that Janay Palmer Rice is not to blame for the abuse perpetrated against her.

At W.O.M.A.N., Inc., our philosophy and our services are survivor-centered. We provide services to survivors who are still in their relationships, contemplating leaving, have left, or left years earlier. While we will always support and validate a survivor’s choices, this does not imply endorsement of abuse. Ideally, all relationships would be safe and happy for everyone involved, boundaries be respected, and each person would feel loved and supported. Yet, understanding there are complexities involved in abusive relationships, we know that this can not always happen for a survivor. Friends, family members, the media, and anti-domestic violence agencies should not judge survivor’s choice or attempt to shame them for the decisions they have made or will make.

There has been a recent spike in calls to our agency. While we truly see it as an honor to be welcomed into the conversation surrounding these incidents, we respectfully ask the media and others to not call our 24-hour support line for comments on this post, or anything having to do with this NFL situation. Please allow the line to stay open for domestic violence survivors who are in crisis, looking for counseling, shelter and support.

For additional commentary from W.O.M.A.N., Inc., please contact me at 415-864-4777, ext 306.

If you are a survivor, and you want to talk about your situation, you are ALWAYS welcome to call our 24/7 Domestic Violence Support Line at 415- 864-4722. We are here for you day and night.

~ Jill Zawisza,

W.O.M.A.N., Inc.Executive Director



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