Let me start off by saying that domestic violence is an issue that I take very seriously. I was a domestic violence prosecutor for almost three years and during that time I worked closely with Victim’s Assistance and organizations dedicated to the safety and protection of women. I also saw the devastating impact of false accusations of domestic violence and, despite the rhetoric, there are enough of those to require vigilance and good investigative work to weed those out as well. Combine that with the high number of false recantations of DV allegations and you have what is one of the more complex areas of criminal law.
Everyone involved in a DV case usually knows everyone else. Every little secret can come out in an effort to discredit alleged victims and the accused. And people who are victims sometimes call the police for help and by evening’s end are begging the police to not take the abuser away. Many times, it is worse and police find themselves fighting off DV victims once the handcuffs come out. And yes, women sometimes marry those who have abused them. Why? The possible reasons are numerous in number and depth and I will not pretend for a minute that I understood all of them. After all, I was not the one in the situation and after the jury said, “guilty” or “not guilty”, I was pretty much done. I was not the one who was there for the years ( or months ) of the relationship nor did I have to deal with the aftermath. And remembering that is how I learned not to judge the victim’s reason for staying or leaving anyone. My job was to see justice served, not be judgmental.
Mr. Rice has now lost his livelihood over his actions in an elevator many months ago. I can not say I feel sorry for him at all beyond the empathetic, “It’s a damn shame” when we see someone with potential toss it away for nothing. And yes, I feel sorry for his wife (Janay Rice) and children because now the lifestyle they were accustomed to could go up in smoke.
Oh, did you forget that?
Did you forget that most of these people up in arms and demanding Rice be exiled to wife beater island have no intentions of ever supporting his family? They have no plans to pay for the education of his children. If the Rices get divorced now, what kind of support do you think the children are going to receive? Sure, there are Victims Assistance Bureaus, but their power is limited. Let us keep in mind that we, as a society, allocate scant resources to assist families before a crisis and very little to help them after one. Our indignation or judgement is, naturally, free. Free of charge and free of study or in-depth discourse and free of real solutions helping real people. Free of the balance of holding people accountable for bad behavior while also not inadvertently punishing the victims.
Right about now you may be thinking that I am advocating or supporting domestic violence. Not at all. There has to be a price for knocking a woman out cold like that. Even if it may be self-defense.
Did we forget about that one too?
Yes, the law does allow one to use physical violence in self-defense. And that video shows Mrs. Rice clearly going after him, when he strikes her. Whether or not that was a reasonable response to her movement is another discussion. Merely because one CAN do a thing, does not mean they SHOULD do a thing. And we can not forget that her lunging at him may very well have been in response to a battery on his part against her. I saw the video and I see her push him on the way to the elevator and he seems fine. No harm, no foul as they say. There is an action in the elevator that I can not discern if it is him striking her or vice versa and then she comes toward him when he elects to respond with a punch. A bad choice indeed. Better eyes may be able to see it differently up to the punch, but the punch is self-evident. In other words, like a lot of domestic violence cases, it gets complicated even when it is clear. Those complications may be one reason why the prosecution pursued an intervention program disposition instead of pursuing a misdemeanor or felony disposition.
And those complications are serious considerations here. Despite what some claim, this disposition for someone with no record is not that unusual. The fact she was knocked unconscious is a major concern, of course. Under current NFL protocols, were Ray Rice knocked out cold in a game, he would be removed from the game, immediately seen by a doctor and likely not allowed to practice or play for the next week. Janay Rice did not have that. No medical trainer to come to her aid, just her then-fiance dragging her out of an elevator.
There will be those who will point out that Mrs. Rice appears to hit her head on the handrail after being struck by Mr. Rice, and it is that act which actually knocks her out. The logic of this way of thinking escapes me so much I can not even respond to it.
And the disposition of his criminal case is not unusual. Many of you will go to a hospital where there is a doctor with a DV past and DV probation or intervention terms. Some of you will go to schools or walk your children to schools with staff that have a DV past and those same terms. So, there is no reason to be outraged about Mr. Rice’s disposition.
What any people forget is that if Mr. Rice violates the terms of his agreement, the case comes back for prosecution. In my time as a DV prosecutor, we kept to a general guideline, but dispositions still made on a case by case basis. There were times when I would trade a felony for misdemeanor. If it meant I was going to have a conviction on the defendant (thereby raising the punishments if it happened again) and the defendant was going to have to abide by terms for 3 years (the standard CA probation term at that time) including completion of the 52 week batterer’s program. If I could not prove my case without victim cooperation and they were willing to support that disposition so long as their significant other did not do jail time, you can bet I made that deal. Defendant had a chance to not screw up again and change the behavior (if you can avoid using violence for a year, or in CA cases, 3 years, you can avoid using it for good) and if defendant screwed up again, I could bring down the hammer. And sometimes, that was as good as we were going to get. Other times, we went forward even without the victim’s cooperation.
Remember what we said about a case by case basis? In this case, Mr. Rice is in the entertainment business. That is what the NFL sells. Entertainment. It has heroes and villains, glitz and glamour, blood and thunder. And for the most part, it should have no interest in the personal lives of its players. But, when those personal lives interfere with the product, just as drugs and alcohol can interfere with performance, then it is time to cut the cord.
Ray Rice, in all of his initial statements did something that bodes well. He took the heat. It’s why the video really did not reveal much of anything. He already admitted he was wrong, he spoke on how wrong the behavior was, and there was nothing in his statements that led a reasonable person to think he was denying that she was unconscious because of him. From a legal standpoint and based on my experience, he is someone who stands a good chance of rehabilitation, especially if the counseling he undergoes is not just couples counseling, but includes a certified batterers program.
But, that does not mean I have to buy his jersey. The smartest thing the Ravens could have done in this case would have been to suspend Rice, at least for the duration of his pre-trial diversion program. In both law and fairness it would have worked. But, they did not. They wanted him back on the field. Now his presence is a distraction, so he has to go. And that is show biz, folks. It is no different than the record companies that cut off Jerry Lee Lewis when he married his 13 year old cousin or the studios that dropped stars after an embarrassing arrest or divorce.
But the real outrage? The real outrage is that most people who are screaming about the NFL’s handling of domestic, including the television talking heads and those screaming for Roger Goodell’s head, will do absolutely nothing about domestic violence. They will not go calling for greater resources to organizations like Women’s Refuge. They will not advocate for increasing violence prevention programs. And they will not be spending time and money to provide resources to those victims who will not be noticed by the general public either because no one famous is involved or because the injuries suffered are minimal. So before we scream that the NFL should be taking a stronger hand with its employees, we may want to remember that as a society, we are not doing any better than they are.