October: Domestic Violence Awareness Month

15 Oct, 2014

Starting with something beautiful: Comrade by Gabby Cogan – an incredible dance piece, inspired by her readings on IPV.

This month began with an email from someone who knows Prepare for the work we do at her school. “Someone I know is in a violent relationship and she has a young child; she wants to leave but is scared. Can you help her?”

Our colleague’s friend is dealing with her relationship outside the public eye. But some stories make the news, especially when celebrities and athletes are involved, as is the case with professional football player Ray Rice and his caught-on-tape knockout punch of Janay Palmer Rice. One of the important lessons I’ve learned from teaching Walk the Talk (anti-bias, anti-bullying curriculum) and gaining more media literacy is to ask, “Whose voices are represented?” and “Whose voices are left out?”

For DVAM, I am doing my first media round-up. I will be looking at how various media outlets covered this story . Even using the term story matters – it distances us from the fact that these are real people with real pain and struggles. It’s not a fictional portrayal of violence and the aftermath, but the lives of human beings not unlike those we may know in our own personal lives – like the person who emailed Prepare earlier this month.

Part 1 – Whose perspectives are represented?

Typically, consumers have a few favorite sources for news, which means only a few points of view influence one’s perspective on a given topic or event. Violence however doesn’t happen in a vacuum. To better understand the Rice family’s experience, we can gain greatly by being exposed to a wider variety of viewpoints that take into account the larger social context: issues of violence against women, Intimate Partner Violence, and the particular experience of IPV for black women, the social place of sports and glamorized aggression in this country, racism, classism, and privilege, issues of punishment, forgiveness and the comeback story. Lastly, I have to acknowledge the limits of my own perspective, so it’s on me to trust the voices of people with different identities when they speak from their perspective.

Take a moment and reflect on where you got your information about this event. Have you been speaking about this with friends or family? What do they say about Janay and Ray?

First we have Ray and Janay’s statements in interviews, at press conferences and through social media. Spokespersons for law enforcement and the casino contributed to the information flow. Media voices from TV, print, and Internet coverage were supplemented by content from experts in the field such as authors, researchers and mental health professionals. Women’s organizations such as NOW and the Black Women’s Roundtable of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation spoke out. Sexual assault and IPV experts and advocates contributed important information, and provided various sources for statistics [1] and resources [2]. @Rihanna was drawn in to the media fray.

We heard from the world of football: Baltimore Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh, owner Steve Bisciotti, and General Manager Ozzie Newsome, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, current and former players, coaches and owners from other teams and the National Football League Players Association. The current and former wives of NFL players also weighed in.

Social media had a large role as well. Hashtags #WhyIStayed and #WhyILeft documented the perspective of people who have experienced IPV and #FireGoodell and #ResignGoodell added to the public conversation. NFL Game Changer was started as a way to encourage the NFL to take a larger role in combating the problem of IPV. Comments posted at online sites for major news media stories and in response to bloggers’ posts kept the conversation going.

As pointed out in more than one place, the voices not represented are those of the victims of IPV who have died at the hands of their abusers. Also not represented, the voice of the couple’s young child.

Whose voices/whose perspectives are heard – matters.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll look at the Rice family story from numerous perspectives:

Part 2 –Ray and Janay speak for themselves, hashtags and social media center the voices of survivors and advocates

Part 3 – The football world weighs in, @Terry Crews (Terry Crews, actor and former pro-football player) and @JBSportscaster (James Brown, anchor for CBS Sports and former collegiate athlete) speak up

Part 4 – Context and facts about IPV

[1] US Dept. of Justice, 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Report NIPSV, Women of Color Network Facts & Stats Collection, National Domestic Violence Hotline Statistics

[2] National Domestic Violence Hotline 800-799-7233, Jacqueline Campbell’s Danger Assessment Tool, National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Domestic Violence Resources from dangerassessment.org.

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