Monday, March 24, 2008

Domestic violence is never okay

This month, two players for the Pittsburgh Steelers were charged in separate domestic violence incidents within 11 days of one another. However, while wide receiver Cedrick Wilson was released from his contract, linebacker James Harrison is being allowed to remain with the team. Both men assaulted the mother of their children. Both men were charged with simple assault. There appear to be only two differences between these men. The first is Harrison's alleged motivation.

"What Jimmy Harrison was doing and how the incident occurred, what he was trying to do was really well worth it," [Dan] Rooney [team chairman] said of Harrison's initial intent with his son. "He was doing something that was good, wanted to take his son to get baptized where he lived and things like that. She said she didn't want to do it."
Harrison is charged with breaking down the door to his girlfriend's home, breaking her cell phone in half as she attempted to call 911, and slapping her in the face, knocking off her glasses. Apparently, this kind of conduct is perfectly acceptable in the NFL if it is done for religious reasons. As Feministing's Vanessa Valenti notes,

While the Steelers are getting quite the rep for violence against women as of late, the team managers have turned a blind eye to a player slapping his girlfriend because what he was trying to do "was really well worth it."
When the Steelers were accused of condoning domestic violence, they released a statement to "clarify" that they do not approve of domestic violence for any reason, but that "each incident must be considered on a case-by-case basis."

Melissa McEwan at Shakesville brought up another interesting difference between these two players' "cases" that is worth examining.

....[W]hat's also notable is that the man who was released from his contract assaulted his ex-girlfriend, while the man who was retained on the team assaulted his current girlfriend—and undoubtedly the still-pervasive attitude that domestic violence is "between a man and his woman" affected the decision. As long as she stays with him, as long as she's willing to suffer the abuse, that's "their" business.

The ex-girlfriend, by virtue of her "ex" status, no longer belonged to Wilson, so it's easy to see why his hitting her was wrong. But things are always muddier, somehow, when it's a current girlfriend or wife, which signifies our collective belief that men still have some ownership of women with whom they're in a relationship, and therefore have more right to do ugly things to them than men who don't have any claim over them.
Many women in violent relationships feel judged by the outside world because of the pervasive societal notion that if they are unhappy, they should just leave. There are many reasons that women do not leave violent relationships. There are economic considerations, religious beliefs, emotional attachment, the societal belief that a "broken home" is bad for children, family pressures, and a host of other issues for women to consider. A less expected but very prevalent reason that women stay in violent relationships is safety. Abusers often threaten to kill their victims, themselves, their victim's family, and/or their children if they ever try to escape or expose the abuse. Also, statistically, a woman in a violent relationship is most likely to be killed after she leaves or while she is in the process of leaving.

Given the societal prejudice, it would not be surprising if that was a real factor in the Steeler's "case-by-case" decision to keep Harrison on the team. Email the Steelers or call their administrative offices at (412) 432-7800 and tell them that there is no case in which condoning violence against women is appropriate.

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