Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Punch Drunk

I have started—then deleted—this post at least a dozen times. I am having trouble wrapping my brain around the things I want to say. I can’t seem to capture and hold all my thoughts.

But it's in the ether today. I have unavoidably viewed the Ray Rice video so many times that I have lost count. I have memorized it. I know exactly when that huge fist begins to rise up. It is a repeating loop playing on every news site I visit. And now a repeating loop in my head. Every time I see Ray Rice violently assault his now-wife Janay, my thoughts are shaken up and reordered. And I am sure that is nothing compared to Janay’s thoughts today.

It is just such an ugly instance of what is most certainly one of the worst parts of humanity.
I am not referring to the images of a 220-pound Running Back knocking out his girlfriend. I’m talking about our reaction to it. It is so easy to see 30 seconds of surveillance footage and begin to pass judgments. But not against the violent man who knocked out the woman he claims to love, dragging her out of the elevator and leaving her on the floor exposed to whomever was watching. I’m talking about judgment of Janay.

Across the country, people are asking how this woman could sit next to this man at a press conference. How could she defend him? How could she stay?

Why doesn’t she leave? Because it isn’t that easy. It isn’t that simple. I know from my own personal experience. We are not always able to extract ourselves from a volatile and dangerous situation. At least, not without a huge cost to and risk of our safety and security.

About ten years ago, I worked as a grant writer for the Legal Aid Society. This non-profit group consisted of both lawyers and paralegals who worked for far below what they could earn in a private firm. They did it because they knew what they were doing was important. They help victims of domestic violence obtain protective orders against their perpetrators. They do everything they can to help these people, and the only thing they can give them for armor is a piece of paper signed by a judge. That is the only shield that they can give these victims to arm themselves.

We need to do better.
The most dangerous time for people in a domestic violence situation is when they decide to leave. And once someone eventually can summon the courage, the money, and the outside support they require to leave, they still aren’t safe. In fact, they are more in danger than ever before. Remember that Nicole Brown Simpson had left.

I really didn’t intend to make this post about why people stay in a dangerous home or relationship. There is an amazing, powerful discussion happening about that very topic in cyberspace right now. Go to Twitter and search for #WhyIStayed. Take 15 minutes and watch Leslie Morgan Steiner’s hugely powerful TED Talk.

"Why I Stayed" is absolutely a conversation worth having.

But here is the thing: it doesn’t matter why she stayed. Not one bit. What matters is her situation today. Right now. What matters is her feeling supported, not judged and abandoned. What matters is her safety and the safety of her children.

This is a huge issue to tackle, and I certainly do not kid myself by thinking I can even scratch the surface of this ubiquitous, nefarious problem. I don’t know how we can ever truly protect those in our society against the people who intend to do them harm. And that is such a helpless feeling. We fight with such weak weapons. A restraining order isn’t bulletproof. Hell, it isn’t even fistproof.

One thing we can do is actually punish those who do the harm in hopes of protecting the victims and serving as a deterrent for further abuse. But… That hardly ever happens. Not really. What if we, as a society, prosecuted acts of domestic violence with the zeal that we incarcerate college kids caught with a joint?

We need to do better as a society. We owe ourselves that much. We need to provide safe exits, family support, and substantial legal penalties.

Instead, we blame victims and make jokes.

And we do laugh. We need to admit that about ourselves. We make light of it. All in the name of comedy. It starts with Ralph Kramden. “One of these days, Alice… Pow! Right to the moon!”
Cue the laugh track.

That is the beginning of minimizing the pain of domestic violence. It desensitizes us to the idea of a man hitting his wife. And it leads to Giant Bags of Douche Brian Kilmeade and Steve Doocy reminding all the Fox News viewers that if you intend to punch your girlfriend, you would be wise to remember that there are cameras in the elevators. Best take the stairs, they advise.

Does the Honeymooners sitcom really give tacit permission to those jackasses on Fox to make jokes? I think it kind of does, yes.

Things around here need to change. But I’m not holding my breath. I guess, like everything else in life, we need to tackle this in small bites. Excuse the football pun.

This is where my thoughts come to rest most. At least for today. I’m not going to ask why Janel stays. That isn’t the question I need to be answered right now.

I want to know why the NFL reacted to the assault of a woman by one of their employees only after it became a public relations problem for them. I think we all need to take a few minutes and chew on that one before we tune in this Sunday.

These days, most employment applications ask: Have you been convicted of a crime? We should all demand that the NFL ask the very same questions of their players as they do of the woman who answers their phones.

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