Yesterday, A CALL TO MEN, an organization that seeks to challenge the existing paradigm of unhealthy masculinity by working with non-abusive men to “create a world where all men and boys are loving and respectful and all women and girls are valued and safe” participated in an ESPN interview saying they believe that the football player Ray Rice deserves a second chance to play professional sports based upon their personal interactions with him and his family.
As the CEO of Truth In Reality, a non-profit whose mission is to reduce the cultural acceptance of gender-based violence in the Black community by changing the violent media stereotypes of women of color as well as a survivor of domestic violence, I stand strongly on the side of honoring the experiences and recovery of victims and survivors and holding batterers accountable for their criminal behavior. While I have tremendous respect for Ted Bunch and Tony Porter, co-founders of A CALL TO MEN and their work, I found their interview with ESPN extremely disconcerting.
Not only was it dangerous and inaccurate for them to repeatedly characterize domestic violence as a “mistake”, but their position reinforces the message that batterers of wealth and privilege should be given preferential treatment and not be held accountable for their crimes. As the records show, Mr. Rice has repeatedly been given special opportunities in the time since the world watched in horror as he knocked his then fiancée Janay Palmer (and now wife) unconscious in an elevator last year. Case in point: being accepted into a pre-trial diversion program that is offered to less than 1% of offenders that is specifically for criminal cases that don’t include violence and are considered “victimless crimes”. By all accounts what happened in that elevator was not a “victimless crime”.
Domestic violence is a global women’s health issue that disproportionately impacts Black women like Janay Rice. Eighty percent of Black high school girls report having been hit, slapped or hurt on purpose by a boyfriend. A Black woman is 35% more likely to be battered and 2 ½ times more likely to be murdered by a current or former partner than a White woman; in fact, femicide is the leading cause of death of Black women aged 15-34 in the United States.
Part of the reason why the issue of violence against women goes largely unchallenged and under prosecuted is because society normalizes domestic violence through minimization and rationalizations such as those expressed by Mr. Bunch and Mr. Porter in their interview with ESPN. Additionally, batterers continue to be given passes by a judicial system which tends to criminalize victims and a society in which the health and well-being of women is all too often secondary to that of the perpetrators of abuse.
The ESPN interview by the co-founders of A CALL TO MEN reinforces the false and dangerous myth that a batterer can become a safe partner in a time frame that is known to be unrealistic and unsustainable by those who work in this field. Despite their years of experience and direct relationship with the Rice family, Mr. Porter and Mr. Bunch are not in a position to guarantee the rehabilitation of Mr. Rice given that it has been less than a year since he began treatment and it is known that it takes years, if not decades to “unlearn” abusive behavior. Their statements also grossly mischaracterized domestic violence, a pattern of controlling and coercive behaviors, as a “mistake’ when in fact the act of domestic violence is one of intention. Additionally and especially since they have nearly 20 years of experience working directly with batterers, they know all too well that contrition, the desire to change and nine months of treatment does not equate sustainable change. Nor does the love and hope of a committed partner.
Lastly, one cannot ignore that A CALL TO MEN is an organization that receives funding from various NFL teams by providing domestic violence awareness training to its players and coaches. For them to conduct an interview at the behest of the Rice family that was published on ESPN.com three days after it was reported that Ray Rice has been actively calling teams in hopes of landing a job is a serious conflict of interest.
The bottom line is this: A CALL TO MEN has done tremendous work as allies to the movement to end violence against women for nearly two decades. If anyone deserves a second chance, it is A CALL TO MEN for putting their personal relationship with Mr. Rice above the lives of the countless victims of violence who will be harmed by their choice to assist a celebrity batterer’s attempts to gain employment when he has never been truly been held legally accountable for his criminally violent actions towards his now wife.
Ray Rice does not deserve a second chance at this stage. Period. It is simply too soon and there is too much is at stake, not only for Mrs. Rice, but the domestic violence movement itself.
-Sil Lai Abrams, CEO, Truth In Reality