The controversy surrounding the Ray Rice incident of hitting and punching his now wife, Janay Palmer unconscious in a an elevator in February, 2014 highlights why the Violence Against Women Act was passed 20 years ago and why it needs further awareness and support even today. It further provides an opportunity for what the NFL’s 32 teams and Commissioner Roger Goodell can do if they really mean business about a no tolerance policy against domestic violence.
Twenty years ago today, the Violence Against Women Act (“VAWA”) was signed into law by President Bill Clinton. At that time, an assault of hitting, kicking, pushing or severely injuring a woman by a male partner was considered a “family affair”. And it is so ironic that even today Janay Rice posts to her Instagram and Twitter accounts that the incident involving her husband is a “personal one”. Sorry Janay but there is nothing personal about the occurrence of a criminal act. That’s why court records are public records and open for anyone to view. And there is nothing personal about domestic violence which hurts and affects more than the two individuals involved.
Twenty years ago, according to a statement released today by Vice President Joe Biden, who was instrumental as a Senator in getting the “VAWA” passed, “Women who had their arms broken with hammers and heads beaten with pipes, were among the 21,000 women who were assaulted, raped, and murdered in a single week in America at the time.” And it includes women who have been violently knocked unconscious by their mates today. The “VAWA” has been strengthened since it first passage to include date violence, investments for health providers to screen patients for domestic violence, making services available to LGBT persons and for Native American tribes to be able to prosecute non-Indian offenders.
More resources need to be made available to domestic violence hotlines and counselors across the country. Most are stretched in terms of resources. Since the Ray Rice incident and revelation of the video inside the elevator, many domestic violence hot line calls have drastically increased by over 50% in some incidents. The National Domestic violence Hotline saw an 84% increase in calls following the 2 days after the Rice video was leaked. There is often some good in some bad incidents. And the good that is occurring now as a result of the Rice incident is a further awareness of violence against women, how far we’ve come and yet how far we must still go. And if Roger Goodell and the NFL is really committed to taking a strong stand against domestic violence, they should put their money where their mouth is. All 32 NFL teams should be required to commit substantial monetary contributions yearly to organizations in the forefront of fighting domestic violence. And just like in the ALS “bucket challenge”, the NFL should challenge the National Hockey League, the National Basketball league and Major League Baseball to do the same thing. That would show the intentions of the NFL are real and not merely lip service in the fight against violence against women.
Vice President Biden announced this week that the White House intends to convene a summit bringing together legal experts, scholars, and advocates on Civil Rights and Equal Protection for Women. We know from the Ray Rice incident that bias against victims of rape and sexual assault still exists in our criminal justice system and in the court of public opinion. And we still have a way to go to make sure that every victim has a basic civil right to equal protection under the law. And last but not least, if you are experiencing or know of anyone experiencing any form of domestic violence, VAWA created the anonymous National Domestic Violence Hotline, which you can visit here,* or dial 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) for help and advice.
Debbie Hines is a trial lawyer and former prosecutor who has prosecuted crimes of domestic violence against women. She is a contributor to the Women’s Media Center often seen in the media addressing issues on gender and race.