As news of Ray Rice’s termination by the Baltimore Ravens for domestic violence and indefinite suspension by the NFL spread like wildfire nationally, advocates, journalist and a plethora of supposed subject matter experts deluged the media with their takes on the incident.
Many local advocates like myself, wondered then — and now — why it takes a single incident of celebrity abuse to bring to the forefront this serious, and too often fatal, issue that ordinary people face silently and alone.
Domestic violence is not new subject matter. Women, and increasingly men, live with abuse in greater numbers than imaginable. They exist in isolated environments that lead them to fear for their lives and the lives of their loved ones.
Abuse is a practice of systematic control that starts with the abuser isolating the victim, which leads to varying phases of abuse that eventually results in physical violence. In many cases the abusive act ends in death. But why do we wait until we see abhorrent behavior by celebrities to have a conversation about a problem that has plagued society for centuries?
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Now that these acts of abuse surrounding Rice have become old news, what does the lack of conversation and media coverage tell us? Sadly, it appears that the victims who continue to face life-threatening violence every day no longer matter.
Let’s look at what happens when good men and women do nothing: According to the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence (FLCADV), such abuse is a pattern of controlling behaviors — violence or threats of violence — that one person uses to establish power over an intimate partner in order to control that partner’s actions and activities.
Domestic violence is not a disagreement, a marital spat or an anger-management problem. It is abusive, disrespectful and hurtful behaviors. Several surveys and reports have found:
▪ One-quarter to one-half of women around the world have suffered violence from an intimate partner.
▪ From 1993 to 1999, intimate partners killed 45 percent of all female murder victims age 20-24.
▪ Women age 35-49 were the most vulnerable to intimate partner murder.
▪ A JAMA study of public school girls found that one in five girls surveyed reported physical or sexual abuse by a date.
▪ In Florida, there were 120,697 acts of domestic violence reported to law enforcement in 2003.
▪ In fiscal year 2003-2004, Florida's domestic violence centers responded to 132,629 crisis calls, provided counseling services to 197,787 people and provided emergency shelter to 14,467 individuals, primarily women and children.
▪ One in three women will experience at least one physical assault by their partner in their lifetime.
▪ In 80 percent of all domestic-violence cases, children witness the abuse. In these families, children are also more likely to become juvenile delinquents than children who grow up in healthy environments.
Several organizations serve victims of domestic violence in South Florida. Miami-Dade County has many shelters for victims and their families. These clients, the majority of whom are women, come mostly with the clothes on their backs and babies and children in tow. They come seeking protection from violent circumstances that never make the news. Many of them are just minutes, days or hours away from being the next victim that loses their lives at the hands of a partner.
Domestic violence crosses all ethnic, racial, generational, sexual orientation, religious and socioeconomic lines. Abuse comes in many forms including physical, verbal, sexual, emotional, financial and psychological. The abuser often threatens, isolates or humiliates the partner to display power and control.
According to a recent study conducted by Liz Claiborne Inc., more than 60 percent of all teen dating relationships have some form of verbal, physical, emotional or technological abuse.
It is time for all of us to have a serious ongoing conversation about domestic violence and what we can do to help break the circle of violence. We must realize that a circle is continuous, if we do not put programs and policies in place to discourage abusive behavior on the part of the abuser, the violence will never end.
Karen Grey is a board member of Safespace Foundation Inc., a 501(c) 3 non-profit organization committed to the advocacy and empowerment of domestic violence victims, their children and survivors.