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“On the NFL and Domestic Violence”
Lysetta Hurge-Putnam, MSW, LICSW, Executive Director

There has been extensive media coverage about domestic violence and the actions or lack thereof, on the part of the NFL. So what is the take away message from all the recent national media attention to the NFL? I believe there are several take away messages.

  1. The first take away: Validates what is well known in the domestic violence field; and that is domestic violence/intimate partner violence does in fact take place in every segment of American society. Race, culture, class, and socio-economic status do not exempt or automatically include anyone.
  2. The second take away: The NFL’s initial tepid response (or lack thereof) is common in many of our public and private institutions/entities: there is no intentional, clear and well thought out effective policy on domestic violence in the workplace, i.e. one that supports victims, abstains from blame; and holds the right person accountable for their actions. This inaction speaks volumes, and undoubtedly mirrors the erroneous belief that domestic violence is a private matter to be worked out between the couple and “is no big deal” “because who knows what really went on anyway.” The reality is that on average, 20 people per minute are victims of physical violence by an intimate partner in the US[1] (10 million women and men annually), and that  for many survivors the impact continues well beyond the healing of physical injuries as they struggle with the psychological impact including depression, adverse health condition (asthma, cardiovascular disease, bladder/kidney infections, irritable bowel syndrome[2]) Clear and effective work place policies and practices, not only attend to the gravity of this problem but also respects the victims’ sometimes daily reality.
  3. The third take away: The national spotlight, has penetrated the shroud of shame, secrecy and darkness that so many survivors know all too well. The spotlight has activated survivors from all walks of life to come forward and share their stories. (#whyIStayed#whyILeft). Many who never went public before have decided to do so, and in so doing they are also learning that while some attitudes and beliefs are slow to change, there is also an incredible  group of public, and private, supporters and allies committed to ending domestic violence. Survivors from everywhere are telling their stories and broadening the public’s understanding of who victims are, and what their actual experiences are. I believe that these courageous survivors are making it crystal clear that they are not responsible for the behavior of another adult, only themselves! They are discarding shame and isolation and turning to social media activism. That’s empowered behavior. They are shouting, I have endured, I have survived and I am thriving.
  4. The fourth and final take away: There is still a long distance to travel before we arrive at the final destination in our collective journey to a society where all intimate partner relationships embody our ideal of love, respect, and equality and free from control and violence. For 1 in 4 Americans this is not the realty of their most intimate relationship.

What If?

  1. What if there was a news day when there were zero reports about another couple/family shattered by intimate partner violence? Not because the report just did not make the news, but because there is no more domestic violence to report.
  2. What if we not only reacted to intimate partner violence, but we addressed the underlying root causes that contribute to intimate partner violence? – such as attitudes, behaviors, laws, institutional practices and policies.
  3. What if we insisted on accountability and responsiveness to acts of intimate partner violence in our places of employment, our public institutions, government, private institutions, etc. etc.?

So where do we go from here? – Some answers:

  1. On August 8, 2014, in our Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Governor Deval Patrick signed the comprehensive domestic and sexual violence bill. This bill is a giant leap in the right direction towards where we go from here in our state and nationally. Some highlights from the bill: (Selected sections – Sections do not constitute the entire bill)

SECTION 9. Effective 7/1/15. Directs various health care related boards of registration (e.g. medicine, nursing, social workers, etc.) to develop and administer standards for licensure that require training and education on S/DV.

SECTIONS 10-11. Requires employers who employ 50 or more employees to permit an employee to take up to 15 days of (paid or unpaid) leave annually if he/she or a family member is a victim of “abusive behavior”, as defined, and the employee is using the leave to obtain medical attention, counseling, victims services, legal services, secure housing, obtain a protective order, appear in court, meet with a district attorney, attend child custody hearings, or address other issues related to the abusive behavior. The employee may be required to document the need for the leave, methods of which are enumerated in the statute and include a sworn statement by the employee. Different notice requirements apply where the employee (or his/her family member) is at risk for imminent harm and where the harm is not imminent.

SECTION 14. Requires law enforcement agencies to provide additional information to defendants when serving them with a c. 209A restraining order, including information on batterer’s intervention, alcohol and substance abuse counseling, and financial counseling.

SECTION 15. Amends c. 209A § 7 to require completion of a certified batterer’s intervention program as a condition of a continuance without a finding for violence of a c. 209A order, unless the court issues specific written findings describing why it should not be ordered or if the program determines that the defendant is not suitable.

SECTIONS 20 – 22. Imposes an additional $50 “domestic and sexual violence prevention and victim assistance assessment” for violations of multiple enumerated orders, including c. 209A orders, conviction/adjudication for an act that would constitute abuse under 209A, or the commission of assault and battery on a family/household member (see Section 23) or strangulation/suffocation (see Section 24). Assessments collected will be deposited in the Domestic and Sexual Prevention and Victim Assistance Fund established in SECTION 6 of this legislation.

SECTION 23. Creates the first offense of assault or assault and battery on a family or household member, which carries with it a maximum penalty 0 2 ½ years in the house of corrections and/or a $5,000 fine. A second or subsequent offense is subject to an enhanced penalty of up to 5 years in state prison. For those convicted of this crime, or as a condition of a continuance without a finding, the court shall order a defendant to complete a certified batterer intervention program unless the court issues specific written findings describing why it should not be ordered or if the batterer’s intervention program determines that the defendant is not suitable.

SECTION 24. Creates the specific felony crimes of suffocation and strangulation, which carry with them a maximum penalty of 5 years in state prison and/or $5,000 fine. For those convicted of this crime, or as a condition of a continuance without a finding, the court shall order a defendant to complete a certified batterer intervention program unless the court issues specific written findings describing why it should not be ordered or if the batterer’s intervention program determines that the defendant is not suitable.

SECTION 42. Requires the Dept. of Elementary and Secondary Education, subject to appropriation, to develop and produce educational material on DV, TDV and healthy relationships for students grade 9-12, to be used as part of the required health curriculum on safe and healthy relationships required by section 1, chapter 71 of MGL/

SECTION 49. Requires EOPSS, with district attorneys, to file with the legislature, by no later than June 30, 2015, a report including information and statistics related to DV crimes and arrests, prosecutions of DV offenses, including dangerousness hearings, to examine the effectiveness of DV laws.

Sections 10-11:  Provides a starting place for employers who might be uncertain about what they can do to support victims; Smaller employers could use this as a starting place and adapt it to their  business/agency/institution. Independence House has a model policy as does the organization Employers against Domestic Violence.

Section 14 -24: With respect to abusive behaviors such as those that were seen by the NFL player any component of theses sections would be a good place to start. Accountability and responsibility must be placed where it belongs.

Section 42:  Is a critical component in ensuring that in the future there are zero domestic violence news days, and more importantly, zero domestic violence days for families. At Independence House We have already begun this work with partner schools in Barnstable County. Our prevention efforts are in partnership with the schools’ leadership, families and students, we are teaching strategies to young people that are helping them to increase their skills for healthy relationships and stops violence in intimate relationships before it starts. We are using the *MVP curriculum which is a gender violence bullying and school violence prevention curriculum. It is effective with young women and men from all races, cultures and socio-economic backgrounds. MVP recognizes men as empowered participants who have an important role in their peer group to help determine attitudes, beliefs and behaviors that contribute to teen dating violence and by extension healthy relationships without control and violence. The model also focuses on girls and women as empowered participants who can be powerful, effective leaders in their peer culture and with younger girls. Independence House will be continuing this work with Cape Cod schools for the foreseeable future

*MVP model originated at North Eastern in 1993. Jackson Katz is the co-founder of the **M.V. P. curriculum.

**MVP has been formally evaluated in various institutional setting with a wealth of anecdotal and qualitative evidence for its effectiveness.

[1] The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey

[2] CDC –  Intimate Partner Violence Consequences