Recently, I read a story in the Wall Street Journal about NFL Giant’s kicker Josh Brown and his wife’s accusation of domestic abuse. (Read more about the WJS article here.)
The WSJ reported that Molly Brown has attempted for years to involve authorities in alleged abuse that started when she was pregnant by the hands of her now ex-husband to no avail. But that was not the reason for the article in the national newspaper. This case made headlines because the NFL allowed Brown to continue playing in 2015 despite the claims and at a time when the NFL was trying to enact a “no-tolerance” domestic abuse policy.
At the end of the piece were several comments from readers who chided the paper for publishing and the NFL for trying to “police” their employees through a marital dispute. Reading those few comments, broke my heart.
- “Mere allegations from an angry spouse should be insufficient to strip a person of their livelihood. And sports leagues should stop trying to police their employees. They are unqualified to provide criminal due process.” Reader Rocco Papalia wrote.
We are still collectively misunderstanding domestic violence and the toll it is taking on generations of children. Maybe it’s the word “domestic” that trips us up. Maybe it is our Victorian ethic our neighbor’s home life is not our affair. I don’t know. But, I do know that domestic abuse is everyone’s business and responsibility and until we accept that, our society is going to continue to suffer.
Barry Goldstein, a national advocate to stop abuse (Stop Abuse Campaign), reports that family abuse is costing our country $1 Trillion in direct and indirect services and consequences on our economy. The National Domestic Violence Hotline reports that one in every four women will face domestic abuse in their life time. One tenth of all divorces involving children result in contested custody cases and the America Bar Association reports that the majority of those involve domestic abuse. The ACE study reveals that children exposed to domestic abuse while growing up are more likely to suffer form a host of emotional issues and learning disabilities, including anxiety and ADD.
The Military Times recently reported that women soldiers entering a combat arena, such as Iraq or Afghanistan, are more likely to be sexually assaulted by a fellow soldier or superior officer than be killed by enemy fire.
Further, there is no impartial agency, organization or study that has every concluded that incidents of false accusation of abuse are common by women seeking revenge against their intimate partner or commanding officer. In fact, reporting such abuse is statistically rare and under reported. For example, each year the United States military conducts an anonymous survey of more than a hundred thousands soldiers about sexual abuse and has found every year that more than 20,000 soldiers, mostly women, say they have experienced some form of sexual assault by a fellow soldier. Yet, less than 4,000 cases are reported each year. The vast majority of these victims do not report the crime.
And that is where society comes in.
Victims of domestic abuse do not report the crime because “we the people” of this country do not make it easy to do so. If fact, we make it very hard.
The study conducted by the military showed that more than 60% of women who do report the criminal act of sexual assault by a fellow soldier experience retaliation that has included everything from shunning the victim to killing her.
According to a University of Michigan study, if a women alleges abuse during child custody hearing, she is likely to be told that she is using the allegation to gain advantage and can lose custody of the children she is trying to protect, even when there is evidence of the abuse. Though almost 20 states have in its laws that domestic abuse may be considered in awarding custody, the standard practice from court to court is to put aside such abuse as examples of unhealthy marital dynamic and is not relevant to custody.
Our family courts are full of untrained judges, lawyers, guardian ad litems who are making quick decisions about the custody of children using myths and popular, incorrect assumptions. It is much easier for our society to assume that a woman is making an accusation of false abuse or is somehow a co-conspirator in the abuse even though sound statistics show otherwise.
There is an old axiom that was coined in medical school that goes like this “When you hear hoofbeats think horses not zebras.” In other words, it is much more likely to assume that the sound you hear is the result of the common horse rather than from the rare zebra.
Somehow, we as a society want to believe that when we hear a woman claiming abuse, she must be lying as an act of revenge, even though that is about as common as a zebra running through the pastures of a horse farm.
I had a conversation with a friend of mine recently about a tragic case in Florida where a mother wounded her ex-husband with a handgun during the exchange of their 5-year-old daughter. Though the injury was bad, it was non-life threatening. She was sentenced to 25 years in prison. The mother was a respected psychologist and the father was a criminal prosecutor in the town. In court, the mother said that she was acting in self-defense as she tried to protect her daughter from leaving with her ex who she had just learned may have been sexually abusing their daughter.
My friend, a woman and an attorney, said to me that she wondered if their woman, who was someone we both knew, was trying to get revenge against her husband after the divorce and that is why she shot him. I asked her what she thought about the husband, who was also someone we both knew. And she said she always through it was a jerk. I asked her why she assumed that the wife would do such a thing for revenge, risk going to jail and loosing her daughter. She said, “I don’t know. Maybe she is really angry.”
I then asked her, “What would you do if you found out that your husband was sexually abusing your daughter?” And my friend looked at me and said, “I’d kill him.”
Then why is it so hard for most of us to believe what is statistically probable, a common feeling and understandable? Instead, we want to believe in zebras?
I don’t get it. I do know that we need everyone to say enough is enough to put an end to domestic abuse and all its forms. It is why I speak out as a victim using my real name. It is why I look to the NFL to get involved. They have a platform and reach millions of people every week every year. They alone could end domestic abuse by making it so unacceptable in their world that it would become unacceptable in the greater world.
I look to anyone with a platform to use it to end the innate sexism and double standards that drive much of these horrible statistics.
Our country is great and founded on liberty for all and that is only achieved when everyone takes responsible. When we turn away from the inconvenient truths before us, serious consequences follow. We can’t afford that any further. We owe our mothers, our sisters, our wives, our Veterans and we owe our children much, much better.
Julie Boyd Cole is a mother of two sons, a journalist, writer and business woman. She has written for the Miami Herald, the Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel, Yahoo.com among many publications around the country. She is the author of “How to Co-Parent with An Abusive Ex and Keep Your Sanity” available on Amazon. (Digital version here)
Currently, she is the chief executive administrator of a non-profit in North Florida. And Julie is a survivor of domestic violence at the hands of her ex-husband, an NFL sportswriter, and today is an advocate helping other victims sort through the trauma of domestic abuse.
Julie also writes for bruisedwoman.com and @bruisedwoman on Twitter about the topic of domestic abuse, co-parenting with an abuser and the emotional damage caused by narcissists and personality disorders.
Surviving domestic violence wasn’t easy or the PTSD that followed, but Julie has found a path through the trauma and now encourages all women that they can, too. She can be contacted at [email protected]