The media attention to domestic Violence in the NFL epitomized by the September 8th video of Baltimore Ravens, Ray Rice knocking out his fiancée in an elevator and Commissioner Goddell’s delayed reaction, bring to the forefront the reality of domestic violence and the factors that fuel it.

Football players are not the only men who succumb to domestic violence and they are not the only ones whose behavior is covered and condoned by silence.

Domestic Violence is physical assault and or psychological abuse, intimidation or coercion perpetrated by a person in an intimate relationship to maintain control over a partner. Eighty-five percent of domestic violence victims are women.

Statistics tell us that:

  • One woman is beaten by her husband or partner every 15 seconds in the United States. (Uniform Crime Reports, Federal Bureau of Investigation, 1991)a fist
  • One out of every four men will use violence against a partner at some time in their relationship.
  • Children are present during 80% of the assaults against their mothers.
  • Violence in the home is illegal and can become lethal.
  • Most incidents of domestic violence are never reported to the police.

Silence fuels Domestic Violence on many levels.

On the personal level, silence is the cover-up of the individual incident or chronic pattern of abuse endured or denied out of fear, shame, self-blame, or protection of children.

It is a concern that you more often hear neighbors say, “Why does she stay?” as opposed to, “How dare he do that?”

On a cultural level, according to Michael Paymar, author of Violent No More and producer of the documentary, “With Impunity: Men & Gender Violence,” silence condones and enables male entitlement to dominate, objectify and marginalize women.

It is telling that calls to the National Domestic Violence Hotline increased 84% during the week of September 8, 2014, the week that the Rice video became public.

Whether viewers watched with horror, disbelief or morbid curiosity, everyone was talking about it and for a brief time, the silence about domestic violence was broken.

Cultural Acceptance of Male Domination Fuels Domestic Violence

 In a radio show, I asked Michael Paymar, who has spent a lifetime working to end Domestic Violence, if he believed we could reduce and eliminate domestic violence. His answer of hope was tempered with what he described as the explicit and implicit cultural acceptance of male domination of women with impunity. Consider the following:

 Accepted Cultural Norms

For some men, the acceptance of their domestic violence is unquestioned by them and everyone around them- “ She deserved it.”

Sadly, as Michael Paymar reports, this attitude is called into question only when a spouse leaves them, they lose their children, police intervene or they are incarcerated or mandated into treatment.

The Deluth Domestic Abuse Intervention Project, which Paymar developed with Ellen Pence is the most widely used program in the country. Paymar reports that in the program, which uses a group model, it is often only the confrontation by other men of the emotional, spiritual and physical destructiveness of the abuser’s “ tough guy” armor that helps a man see it differently. Palmer reports that when men stay with the program and find the voice to help others, they take responsibility for their abuse and have some hope of changing.

Intergeneration Legacy of Violence

Some men live out a legacy of violence and abuse that they have observed and suffered as a child. Their childhood was one of fear and domination. Findings confirm that in many cases they themselves have also been victims of abuse.

One man revealed that he watched his father beat his mother with fear and hate for the man, vowing he would never do that. It was hard to admit that as an adult he could not regulate his rage and was abusive to one female partner after another. In treatment, he found a stronger and safer self.

  • Boys who witness domestic violence are twice as likely to abuse their own partners and children when they become adults.
  • Recent research reveals that exposure to inter-parental violence (IPV) leaves one at risk of both later perpetration and victimization, with the exposure history of one’s partner adding to the risk (Fritz, Slep, O’Leary, 2012).
  • From a psychological perspective, many, like the man above, want to reverse the pattern; but they have been children in terror without the benefit of a secure attachment, a way of feeling safe and a way of calming down.
  • For them regulation of emotion is difficult be it anger, disappointment or shame. Given no one recognized their individual needs or the impact of the violence on them, they have difficulty mentalizing” i.e. seeing their partner as separate and with needs. When angry, they only know dominance as survival.

Media Bombardment

For all men and women, young and old, the culture’s heightened, non-stop, media bombardment of images, violent pornography, sexual websites, sexual trafficking, and hook-up mentality perpetuates a message of male entitlement and dominance with impunity.

  • As Jackson Katz, author of The Macho Paradox suggests, everyone is subject to desensitization in face of such bombardment. It becomes just one more athlete abusing a girlfriend, another obscene joke to pass on, just Eminem’s art to proclaim lyrics that degrade women with obscenity and threats of murder, just another alpha male exploiting coeds at a Fraternity Party.
  • Against this backdrop we should not wonder about sexual harassment, campus rape, military sexual trauma and partner violence.
  • Research has shown us that our emotions can be shaped by what we see even before we register it consciously.

Is Change Possible?

Change is not easy but possible, because as Jackson Katz, reminds us,

There are “ More than a Few Good Men.”

  • One out of every four men will use violence against a partner at some time in their relationship but that means that three out of four will not.
  • Men as well as women lined-up to hand in their football jerseys with outrage for the N.F.L.’s failure to acknowledge the domestic abuse that had been ignored.
  • Procter and Gamble joined the list of sponsors distancing themselves from the N.F.L. by pulling brands out of a campaign held in conjunction with breast cancer awareness month.
  • Donna Freitas, author of The End of Sex studied college students’ attitudes toward the hook-up mentality on campus. In public, men said it was great. In private, many men shared their discomfort and disagreement with minimizing the importance of relationships, maximizing the goal of sexually scoring, and exploiting women who had too much to drink.

The message of The Macho Paradox is that our hope for ending domestic violence is found in the voices of strong responsible men. Yes, it is a risk to take a stand, to go against the flow, to be the only voice to say, “That could be your daughter.” “ Would you say that about your sister?” –but isn’t that what courage and strength are about? Don’t we need to support those who show that courage?

When the visible and powerful men (Politicians, Professional Athletes, Commissioners, Teachers, School Administrators, College Coaches, Military Commanders, CEO’s, etc.) vocally stand up against domestic violence, they undo the cultural acceptance of male domination with impunity.

When college Presidents, Professors and Coaches voice messages like:

  • Date rape is not inevitable-It’s criminal.
  • Alpha men who abuse women are not tough guys-They’re predators.

…They offer students the guidance they still need.

When fathers and brothers look for the teachable moments to voice a perspective about abusive relationships in a film, a video game or news story, they become a voice that might be remembered.

The recent video of Ray Rice knocking out his fiancé’ was too real to be ignored. It caught the attention of fans and more. It escalated outrage and consequences for other professional athlete abusers and the powerful people who minimized their crimes.

If this breaks the silence and calls attention to domestic violence, everyone takes a step.

If this is a short-lived outcry—We need to keep raising voices!!

Be certain to listen to Attorney Toby Kleinman on Psych Up Live “Child Custody and Domestic Violence: Are the Courts Protecting Kids?”