Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Violence is Violence is Violence

While pouring cereal and packing lunches this morning, I had MSNBC's Morning Joe playing on the kitchen teevee. In between discussions of the Gonzales resignation and the latest Republican restroom-based sex scandal, Mr. Scarborough, to his credit, repeatedly pointed out that, in his opinion, the traditional media had gone overboard with its coverage of dog-killer/NFL star Michael Vick and wondered why, when professional athletes beat and kill their wives and girlfriends, there was, in comparison, so much less publicity surrounding those horrific crimes.

Within minutes, viewers were calling in and sending e-mails, informing Scarborough that "women have a choice and can get away from their attackers and abusers, whereas dogs are dependent on humans for their food and shelter".

This is beyond the pale, ladies and gentlemen.

Don't get me wrong: I am fully supportive of throwing the book at Vick. Readers know how I feel about people who harm animals--Robert and I have rescued numerous sick, abandoned, and wounded dogs and cats since we first met, and our own gentle Pit Bull, Winston, was shot several times by a drunken and larcenous neighbor last month (Winnie's doing beautifully, by the way). We were naturally upset--make that outraged--to learn of Vick's abuses. But what Joe Scarborough says is true: women are raped and beaten, abused and imprisoned and murdered all the time, by professional athletes as well as men in every profession and plenty of unemployed ones, too--in every state of this nation.

Moreover, I am disgusted by the volume of critics, public and private, who buy into the blame-the-victim mentality, especially those delusional sorts who'd suggest that a woman can "choose" to free herself from a rapist who's three times her body weight; or run away from a man who has repeatedly beaten her and threatened to hunt her down and kill her--or her children--if she ever left him; or find the courage and financial wherewithal to free herself from a controlling, emotionally crippling relationship that has, over a period of time, involved the gradual erosion of her soul, of her self, to the point that she doesn't believe she is worth anything any more--that she is ugly, or fat, or stupid, or just a menopausal bitch that no-one else would want anyway.

These people, these beyond-the-pale people, need to open their eyes:

MURDER. Every day four women die in this country as a result of domestic violence, the euphemism for murders and assaults by husbands and boyfriends. That's approximately 1,400 women a year, according to the FBI. The number of women who have been murdered by their intimate partners is greater than the number of soldiers killed in the Vietnam War.

BATTERING. Although only 572,000 reports of assault by intimates are officially reported to federal officials each year, the most conservative estimates indicate two to four million women of all races and classes are battered each year. At least 170,000 of those violent incidents are serious enough to require hospitalization, emergency room care or a doctor's attention.

SEXUAL ASSAULT. Every year approximately 132,000 women report that they have been victims of rape or attempted rape, and more than half of them knew their attackers. It's estimated that two to six times that many women are raped, but do not report it. Every year 1.2 million women are forcibly raped by their current or former male partners, some more than once.

What's more, women are ten times more likely than men to be violently harmed by a partner (or intimate). Ten times more likely. The rate of domestic violence is five times higher for women living below the poverty level.

And what of child abuse? Do the widespread beating, torture, emotional abuse and murder of children--children, for God's sake--draw the sort of media attention and engender the kind of effective grassroots protest--en masse and online--as has Vick's admittedly horrendous behavior? Hardly.

The incommodious truth is that partner abuse and child abuse are so pervasive, like car accidents or the flu, they rarely make headlines any more despite the fact that both continue to claim lives at a frightening clip, like car accidents or the flu. Somewhere along the line, the traditional media decided that we, the public, only want to hear about the freakish, gossipy stuff, particularly when it's served up with a side of schadenfreude: the strung-out starlet who OD's, the politician caught with his pants down while attempting to pick up a male prostitute.

And when the perpetrator is one of our revered professional athletes--those classes of worshipped Americans who, along with Hollywood celebrities, symbolically occupy the thrones we supposedly dismantled and discarded in 1776--well, domestic violence will inevitably serve as the subtext, not the main story. Remember professional wrestler Chris Benoit? The guy who hanged himself after murdering his wife and son? Steroids were the primary focus of virtually every piece of reporting about this man--What sort of example does this steroid-taking wrestler set for our future athletes? and so forth. Not the terrible violence that Benoit perpetrated against his wife (and possibly his child), violence that led her to file for a restraining order as well as a divorce back in 2003, stating that he had threatened her, her child, and their very belongings; that she was "in reasonable fear for (her) own safety and that of the minor child." (Like many abused partners, Ms. Benoit rescinded the papers shortly thereafter and was still married to Benoit when he strangled her to death and then suffocated his son.)

Daily Herald writer Barry Rozner points to other examples of professional athletes' domestic violence; he's as baffled as I am at the lack of outrage on behalf of battered and murdered women, not to mention the nudge-nudge, slap-on-the-wrist treatment these criminals receive, from the courts as well as the courts of public opinion:

The Michael Vick story represents one of the most depraved and deplorable moments in sports history.
If you're not completely sickened yet, watch the current edition of HBO's "Real Sports,'' which spotlights the horrifying world of dog fighting.
And, yes, for the record, I love dogs.
But I love women and children, too, and have to admit to being stunned by the outrage over Vick's crimes in relation to the lack of protest over domestic violence by athletes.
Especially, when an abusive husband or boyfriend is unlikely to spend much -- if any -- time in jail, while Vick is thought to be going away for at least a year. [...]
Meanwhile, the incidents in sports pile up by the dozens each year, and many pass quietly after an initial reaction.
The Rockies' Bobby Chouinard, for example, held a loaded gun to his wife's head and served a one-year sentence -- but in three-month increments during off-seasons.
Phillies pitcher Brett Myers allegedly dragged his wife around by the hair on a Boston street in front of witnesses. He still pitched the next day at Fenway Park, and was later granted a paid leave of absence.
The Buccaneers' Michael Pittman was indicted three years ago on two counts of aggravated assault for intentionally ramming his Hummer into a car carrying his wife and 2-year-old son.
It was the fourth time Pittman had been arrested on domestic-abuse charges, but his wife, Melissa, told police there were 30 or 40 others that she never reported.
Pittman got a three-game suspension.
There have been calls for Vick to be suspended for life.
"Penalties for animal abuse are still greater than penalties for domestic violence in some states,'' (University of Baltimore School of Law professor Leigh) Goodmark said. "The Vick story has been the biggest in sports for two months, and I understand he's a big star, but (Carolina's) Rae Carruth was found guilty of conspiring to murder his pregnant girlfriend (in 2001), and after that you never heard much about it, or the need for more domestic-violence prevention in sports.''

Violent men--and let's face it, the world of professional sports is disproportionately populated with violent men--view women, children, and yes, animals as things, not as breathing, sentient life forms; they're merely objects to own and dispose of at will. And while I'll go on record as stating that of course the life of a woman or child is worth more than the life of an animal--not that an Ethics 101 hypothetical really applies here--I believe it's possible to be disgusted and horrified by all incidents in which brutal, testosterone-poisoned monsters abuse or murder the less powerful.

It isn't necessary to excuse any of it; it is, however, vitally, morally imperative that traditional media and blogs alike refocus their wandering attentions, regain some sense of proportion, and regularly and passionately call attention to the outrageous magnitude--four American women killed daily!--of the problem of domestic abuse and murder.

Because violence is violence is violence.

UPDATE: Writing for The Baltimore Sun, Lisa Simeone discusses athletes who get away with, well, murder, to name just one felony. She points to a disturbing study of NFL players which conservatively estimates the number of its athletes charged with a serious crime (i.e. homicide, assault, or rape) to be 21 percent, or one in five:

These figures are from the 1996-97 season. They do not include juvenile records or dozens of arrests that, because of the researchers' deliberately conservative methodology, did not make it into the study. The figures and the stories behind them are in the book Pros and Cons: The Criminals Who Play in the NFL.

The NFL, of course, disputes the findings. Yet the league already knows about its players' criminal records: It employs a team of private investigators to research all of them before they're drafted.

And rape, for example, is the most underreported crime in America, according to the Justice Department, and is notoriously difficult to prove. It raises questions about whether players get away with acts we'll never know about. But why focus on the NFL? In professional and collegiate sports, there's plenty of crime to go around.

1 comment:

  1. Deborah, many thanks for the mention. FYI, all, you no longer have to go through a pay wall to read the column. It's here:

    Hold athletes accountable
    February 23, 2003
    by Lisa Simeone