The NFL and the Sad Lessons of Ray Rice

Woman cryingDuring this evening’s “Thursday Night Football,” the NFL is unveiling the first of a series of public service announcements denouncing domestic violence and sexual assault. While the PSAs are a move in the right direction, they should be only the first down in the NFL’s game plan to address Ray Rice’s assault of his then-fiancée and other incidents in which  NFL players have abused women.

At 2:52 a.m. on February 15 (the conclusion of a Valentine’s Day celebration), Ray Rice assaulted his fiancée, Janay Palmer, in the elevator of an Atlantic City Casino. He slugged her hard enough to leave her unconscious and unresponsive to his kicking attempts to wake her. He dragged her, unconscious, from the elevator, and dropped her on the ground, where he was spotted by onlookers. Security and police arrived.

Prior to Rice delivering his knockout punch to his then fiancé, witnesses indicate he spit in her face, once outside the elevator and once inside the elevator. She then allegedly responded with some physical moves, at which point Rice delivered a fierce blow to her face.[i] Palmer slammed into the elevator wall, her head hit a hip-level rail as she fell, and Palmer ended up unconscious on the floor of the elevator.

Rice and Palmer were each charged with misdemeanor assault. On March 27, Rice was charged with Third Degree Aggravated Assault, a felony carrying a sentence of three to five years. The charge against Palmer was dismissed.[ii] Rice and Palmer married the next day, March 28. Spousal privilege may prevent a wife from testifying against a husband.[iii] One can only wonder whether Ms. Palmer married out of love and hope for the future, or fear of reprisal and further violence at the hands of Ray Rice.

Rice was permitted to enter a diversion program to avoid a conviction, as long as he completes anger management counseling. His team, the Baltimore Ravens, stood behind him throughout the prosecution. “This is part of the due process for Ray. We know there is more to Ray Rice than just this one incident.”[iv]

The NFL handed down a two game suspension to Rice, plus fined him his third game check. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell admonished Rice to continue with the court ordered counseling he and his wife found of benefit.[v] A public outcry at the leniency of the punishment had no effect. However, release of the complete video of the assault, showing the viciousness of the assault, and Rice kicking an unconscious Palmer, resulted in the Ravens’ releasing Rice from his contract and the NFL suspending him from football indefinitely.

Janay Rice has appeared in public, accusing the media of using the Rice family’s personal misfortune to drive ratings and ultimately destroy her husband’s career. [vi]

What lessons can we take from this incident, and what does it teach our children?

The Ravens and the NFL stood by their man. The Ravens even “tweeted” a comment that Janay “regretted the part she played in the incident that night.”[vii] They held a press conference in which Rice apologized to everyone for his actions, except his wife.[viii] And, they supported Rice with public comments about what a fine player he is and suggestions that there were ‘reasons’ for the assault.[ix]

Blaming the victim is nothing new. Men have been blaming the women they beat, since they first began beating women. And, members of the community, including police, prosecutors, healthcare providers, neighbors and friends, often do the same. It’s easier to blame the victim than to take a good hard look at ourselves, and, in the case of the NFL, the violence of players that is tacitly condoned by owners and management within the league.

Domestic violence charges account for 85 of the 713 arrests of NFL players since 2000, according to a database compiled by USA Today.[x] So, the NFL has had plenty of experience dealing with domestic violence by its players. Its treatment of the Rice case was not a misstep, taken through lack of knowledge of or experience with this issue. Supporting the perpetrator, while embarrassing and blaming the victim, is an effective tactic taken all too often in domestic abuse cases. One can only wonder at the perspective of men who punish a steroid offense with a four-game suspension, while punishing a domestic violence assault with a two-game suspension.[xi] An analysis by ESPN’s Datalab found that NFL players are more prone to arrest for domestic abuse than comparable populations outside the NFL.[xii] Maybe that’s not surprising, given that the league, to date, has pretty much sided with the players, against their victims.

A violent assault such as this, unfortunately, is seldom a one-time occurrence. Domestic violence typically follows a pattern of using violence and other abusive techniques to control the behavior of another. Men use domestic violence to achieve their own goals. Women who are abused come to believe that if they just look prettier, keep the kids quieter, keep the house cleaner, get the food on the table sooner, don’t see their girlfriends, quit their job, or act more interested in intimacy, they can keep an abusive partner from acting out.

The woman in an abusive relationship may feel driven to act out violently for self-protection or to escape, or to try to control when or where an assault may occur. Male batters typically use violence to establish control in the relationship; women who use violence typically use it to control the immediate conflict situation.[xiii] It is imperative that police and prosecutors look not just to the isolated acts of the parties, but at things like the degree of injury, the sizes of the parties, the force involved, any long term patterns, etc. The psychological, physical, and emotional toll of domestic violence is never just a private matter; it has wide reaching economic and social effects, and must always be treated seriously.

The prosecution says it treated the Rice case as it does any other first time charge of domestic violence.[xiv] Many, if not most, people probably thought the plea bargain was the right outcome. Until they saw the video—a video that the prosecution viewed before offering the plea bargain that spared Rice a conviction.

Most victims of domestic violence don’t have a video of the assault. But, even with a video showing a vicious attack by a well-known and respected sports figure, a role model for many young people, prosecutors felt no compunction about a plea bargain offering dismissal in exchange for counseling. Maybe this is truly the type of assault they regularly encounter, and so the fact that there was a video and a well-known public figure made no difference in how they handled the case. Or, perhaps Rice benefited from his fame and fortune in ways another man not so blessed, would not.

The goals of prosecution should be: (1) to protect the victim, (2) to hold the defendant accountable and deter him from further violent acts, and (3) to communicate to the community that domestic violence will not be tolerated.[xv] It seems that the prosecution in this case fell short on all goals.

What of Janay marrying her assailant? Unfortunately, that too is not so unusual in domestic violence cases. Women often have a hard time leaving an abusive relationship. They may be economically dis-empowered, they may fear custody battles over children, they may fear more extreme abuse if they leave, and they may have nowhere to go. Or, if they leave, the abuser may sweet talk them into returning with promises to change, to behave better, to provide gifts, etc. On average, women in abusive relationships leave seven times. They, too, stand by their man. Janay Rice’s statement “regretting” her part in this incident, and pleading for privacy for her family may simply be indicators that she’s succumbed to a message that the violence is her fault and she has no power in her relationship.

Since it’s become apparent that the NFL fumbled the ball on this one, some members of corporate America spoke out. Nike severed an endorsement deal with Rice. Anheuser Busch indicated it is extremely concerned. The NFL was finally convinced to take another look at its domestic violence policy, which was changed to provide for a six game suspension for a first offense; a second offense results in a lifetime ban from the League. And the Ravens allegedly offered Ray Rice a job once all this has settled down. Stand by your man. . .

Maybe it’s time we all took another look at how we respond to domestic violence in our communities. It’s time to end the violence.

By: Katherine Flom, attorney and volunteer with The Advocates for Human Rights, and Rosalyn Park, interim director of The Advocates’ Women’s Human Rights Program.

[i] Sources: Ray Rice spat at fiancee ESPN Outside the Lines, September 11,2014.

[ii]Ray Rice Prosecutors Video Defend No-Jail Deal Despite,”, Sept. 10, 2014.

[iii] “Sources: Ray Rice gets married,” ESPN NFL, March 31, 2014.

[iv] Id.

[v]Ravens’ Ray Rice suspended two games by NFL,” Around the NFL, August 16, 2014.

[vi]Ray Rice’s wife blames media for ‘nightmare’caused by video release,” The Guardian, September 9, 2014.

[vii]Ravens delete tone-deaf Janay Rice tweet from May,”, September 8, 2014.

[viii] “Forget the Video, Facts are shocking enough,” New York Times, September 8, 2014.

[ix] Id.

[x] “NFL’s past penalties for domestic violence ‘a different story ’” CNN U.S. September 10, 2014.

[xi] “Suspended for abuse, then patted on the back,” New York Times, July 24, 2014.

[xii] Morris, Benjamin, The Rate of Domestic Violence arrests among NFL Players, ESPN “FiveThirtyEight,” July 31, 2014.

[xiii] Women’s Use of Violence in Intimate Relationships, Stop Violence Against Women, August 2013.

[xiv]Ray Rice Prosecutors Defend No-Jail Deal Despite Video,”, Sept. 10, 2014.

[xv] Role of Prosecutors, Stop Violence Against Women, February 2006.

Set Standards to End Workplace Gender-based Violence

Stop Violence Computer Key

The Advocates for Human Rights and 30 other organizations sent the following letter to the United States Council for International Business. Recipients include Ronnie Goldberg executive vice president, United States Council for International Business; Ariel Meyerstein, vice president, United States Council for International Business; Harold McGraw III, chair, Board of Directors of the United States Council for International Business, and chairman for McGraw Hill Financial; Clifford Henry, chair, Corporate Responsibility Committee of the United States Council for International Business, and associate director, Corporate Sustainable Development for Procter & Gamble Company; Laura Rubbo, vice chair, Corporate Responsibility Committee of the United States Council for International Business, and director of International Labor Standards for Walt Disney Company; Edward E. Potter, chair, Labor and Employment Committee of the United States Council for International Business, and director of Global Workplace Rights for Coca-Cola Company.

We, the undersigned organizations, write to urge the United States Council for International Business to support the proposal for a standard setting item on “violence against women and men in the world of work” at the November 2014 Governing Body Session of the International Labor Organization.

Gender-based violence in the workplace is a pernicious and widespread problem. Worldwide, 35 percent of women experience violence, and between 40 and 50 percent of women experience unwanted sexual advances, physical contact or other forms of sexual harassment at work. This has profoundly negative effects on victims’ health and well-being, and imposes high costs on employers and society at large.

Harassment, stalking behavior, threats and abuse – all part of what constitutes gender-based violence at work – are known to hamper job performance and productivity, and can prevent individuals from engaging in the labor force at all. The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate gender-based violence costs the US economy $5.8 billion a year in direct medical and mental health expenditures and lost productivity. In countries that lack the relatively robust protections the United States has for its citizens, that number is much higher.

A tripartite global standard would provide clear and comprehensive guidance on how to protect workers and employers from the negative impacts of widespread gender-based violence, including sexual harassment. The nature of gender-based violence at work requires common protections against the full range of coercive and damaging behaviors, in addition to any legal protections that exist for abuses such as assault and rape.

Without strong laws and developed government mechanisms, employers not only suffer losses through reduced productivity and absenteeism, they may individually bear the cost of developing programs to ensure the safety of their workers and reduce the risk of legal liability or negative publicity. Ensuring governments assume responsibility for addressing and remediating gender-based violence will protect both victims and employers. A global standard will facilitate compliance in international operations by developing common frameworks and definitions.

An international standard to create safe and productive working environments is in the best interest of businesses operating within the United States and throughout the world. We urge the United States Council for International Business to join the United States government in supporting this worthy measure.


The Advocates for Human Rights
American Federation of Labor – Congress of Industrial Organizations
American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees
Association for Women’s Rights in Development
Blue Star Strategies
Center for Health and Gender Equity
Center for Women’s Global Leadership, Rutgers University
Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice
Coalition of Immokalee Workers
The Coalition to Abolish Slavery & Trafficking
Feminist Majority Foundation
Futures Without Violence
Gender at Work
Human Rights Watch
International Labor Rights Forum
International Brotherhood of Teamsters
Just Associates
National Nurses United
National Organization for Women Foundation
National Women’s Law Center
Office and Professional Employees International Union Local 2
Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union
The Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights
Service Employees International Union
Solidarity Center
Unite Here
United Food and Commercial Workers
United Steelworkers
Vital Voices Global Partnership
Women Thrive Worldwide
Workers United

New Sanctury Movement Challenges Consciences

Stock Photo woman behind fenceBeatriz Ramirez and her two young children moved into Chicago’s Our Lady of Guadalupe Mission in September. Rosa Robles Loreto has lived in Tucson’s Southside Presbyterian Church since August. In Philadelphia, the Indonesian Mennonite Philadelphia Praise Center and the Jewish Tikkun Olam Havurah stand ready to welcome immigrants seeking sanctuary. They are part of a new sanctuary movement, with religious groups from Maine to California committing to shelter immigrants in danger of deportation. Besides offering sanctuary to immigrants, they challenge the country’s leaders to change harsh and punitive immigration laws.

Sanctuary has no legal standing in the United States, though its historic roots run back through English law, Christian and Jewish religious practice, and Greek and Roman traditions. Those laws and traditions promise safety from retribution or punishment to accused criminals who take refuge in a church or designated place of sanctuary. Today’s sanctuary movement offers refuge to undocumented immigrants in danger of deportation by the U.S. government.

The first person living in sanctuary in Southside Presbyterian Church was granted a stay of deportation. Now the focus is on Rosa Robles Loreto and the church’s website describes her plight:

“Rosa Robles Loreto has two beautiful boys, a loving husband, and has lived in Tucson since 1999. She is an active member of the community, volunteers at her church, her sons’ school, and their baseball teams. But she was ordered to be deported after a minor traffic violation. Like millions of other undocumented immigrants in the United States, Rosa’s case is considered low-priority for ICE—she has no criminal history, is a caretaker for minors and has long-standing community ties. But she was in detention for 53 days and fought her immigration case through the courts to no avail.  Now, Rosa lives with an order of deportation hanging over her head and is not safe to move freely in her home community of Tucson.”

The Huffington Post recently described Robles Loreto’s daily routine:

“Robles Loreto’s two young sons stay with her on weekends. During the week, she wakes up around 5 a.m. to prepare her husband’s lunch, goes back to sleep, and awakes again by 7:30 a.m. She helps clean the church. Southside officials make sure there is someone at the church at all hours to ensure Robles Loreto is safe.”

Immigration agents have the authority to invade churches and take away the families, but generally avoid making arrests in churches and schools. Instead, the immigrants wait, hoping for a stay of deportation in some cases, for a grant of asylum in others.

Southside Presbyterian Church in Tucson is a veteran sanctuary church, having led the 1980s sanctuary movement, which sheltered refugees from Central American wars. The Migration Policy Institute describes the earlier movement:

“The defense of the Salvadorans and Guatemalans marked a new use of international human rights norms by U.S. activists. Citing the Nuremberg principles of personal accountability developed in the post-World War II Nazi tribunals, religious activists claimed a legal precedent to justify their violation of U.S. laws against alien smuggling. Other activists claimed that their actions were justified by the religious and moral principles of the 19th-century U.S. abolitionist movement, referring to their activities as a new ‘Underground Railroad.'”

More than 150 congregations sponsored Salvadoran or Guatemalan refugees during the 1980s, with hundreds more supporting the movement.

In Minnesota, St. Luke’s Presbyterian Church in Wayzata resolved that it would “actively resist the immoral and illegal policy of the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service by declaring this church… to be a ‘sanctuary’ for refugees from El Salvador and Guatemala.” The church sheltered Salvadoran Rene Hurtado for six weeks, and continued to support him through legal battles that lasted for 25 years.

Today’s sanctuary movement has a broader scope, including not only refugees but also people who have lived in U.S. communities for years and have never had access to any path to legalization. With deportations reaching another record high in 2013, and with no progress toward immigration reform, the new sanctuary movement offers a tiny sliver of space to some of the 11 million undocumented immigrants who live in fear in the United States. More importantly, the growth of the new sanctuary movement could awaken the consciences of millions of Americans to demand comprehensive immigration reform and a path to legalization for people who are part of the fabric of our communities.

By guest blogger Mary Turck, a freelance writer and editor, and an adjunct faculty member at Macalester College and Metropolitan State University, teaching occasional journalism and writing courses. She edited the TC Daily Planet, an online daily news publication, from January 2007 to July 2014, and before that, edited the Connection to the Americas and AMERICAS.ORG. In earlier years, she worked as a freelance writer and editor, practiced law in Chicago and Minnesota, taught in elementary schools, colleges and prisons, and worked as a community organizer. She is also the author of many books for young people (and a few for adults), mostly focusing on historical and social issues. She currently lives in Saint Paul, Minnesota.  Be sure to visit Turck’s blog, News Day.

Reeva’s real killer: It started with a gun

Reeva Steenkamp
Reeva Steenkamp

While legal experts and the public attempt to make sense of the Oscar Pistorius trial verdict, the killing of Reeva Steenkamp has drawn attention to another type of evidence – the research evidence on women as victims of homicide.

Every eight hours in South Africa, a woman is killed by her husband or boyfriend.  There, as in most countries, the home is the most dangerous place for a woman. That danger escalates sharply when a gun is added in to the mix. International research shows that having a gun in the house makes you twice as likely to be murdered – or three times as likely, if you’re a woman.

There are so many awful aspects of the Reeva Steenkamp tragedy. One of them is that her killer had the gun for the purpose of self-defence. To defend himself and presumably Reeva from outsiders who might come over the threshold and threaten the sanctuary of their home. Research shows you are four times more likely to have your gun stolen from you than to use it in self-defence. In fact over 12,000 guns are stolen every year from South African homes – more than 30 guns a day going over the threshold in the opposite direction, creating further risk in neighbourhoods and the country as a whole.

We know that reducing access to guns saves women’s lives. One every eight hours means three women are killed by their partners every day, but it was even worse – four per day – before South Africa strengthened its gun law. The law was changed in 2000 and implemented from 2004. Researchers credit the gun law for reducing murders of women. In other words, men who attack their partners but who do not have a gun are less likely to leave them dead. Likewise for men who act negligently or mistakenly in “self-defence”. If Reeva Steenkamp’s partner had not had a gun, chances are she would be alive today.

Guns are simply physically more deadly than other common means of interpersonal violence – three times as likely to kill the victim than an attack with a knife. For a given investment of energy and time (one instant, one finger-pull), they do more damage to human bodies. That is why they are favoured by professional criminals, and frequently by ordinary men prone to aggression, impulsivity, recklessness, “vulnerability” or fear.

For Reeva Steenkamp, cowering behind the bathroom door in those early hours of Valentine’s Day 2013, the outcome was determined by the presence of a gun. Whether the man who fired four shots through the door was acting reasonably or unreasonably in the circumstances, whether he was affected by instincts, emotions or perceptions – analysis after the fact cannot change the ugly reality. She was yet another woman killed at home, in the place where she was most entitled to feel safe, the trigger pulled by the man who should have been most committed to her wellbeing.

While the media focus returns to the life story and athletic career of her killer, we mourn Reeva Steenkamp and the many thousands of women whose lives are similarly, brutally cut short around the world each year.  Along with mourning, we must also consider the broader evidence for prevention. That means recognising the lethal danger for women posed by guns in the home.

Rebecca Peters
Rebecca Peters

By: Guest blogger Rebecca Peters, an international expert on firearm regulation and violence prevention. A lawyer and journalist, in the 1990s she led the grassroots campaign in Australia which secured comprehensive reform of the gun laws and a 50% reduction in gun violence. She received the Australian Human Rights Medal for this work. She was program director at the at the Open Society Institute in New York (1998-2002), and the first director of the International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA) from 2002-2010. Since 2010 she has worked with the Surviving Gun Violence Project, and as a consultant to international organisations including the World Health Organisation, the World Bank and Amnesty international. Twitter @IANSAnetwork and @SGVProject

The article was originally posted on the Daily Maverick on September 15, 2014.

Hold Modi Accountable

ModiIndia’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi made his first official visit to the United States, a trip he was prohibited from making until recently. The U.S. government had previously refused to issue Modi a visa based on his treatment of religious minorities while he was chief minister of Gujarat. Now that he is a prime minister, he seems to travel freely, despite the cloud of suspicion swirling around him. This unique situation, while uncomfortable for US diplomats, spotlights the need for protection of human rights in India, where members of minority religious groups—Christians, Muslims, and Sikhs, in particular ―are regularly targeted for discrimination and abuse.

India, the world’s largest democracy, is an extraordinary country whose diversity of language, culture, and religion is one of its many strengths. It is a party to all of the most important human rights treaties, and religious freedom, nondiscrimination, and due process are hallmarks of its constitution. Modi’s visit should elicit conversations about how to ensure India lives up to its promises.

Much has been said about Modi’s involvement, tacit or otherwise, in communal attacks in Gujarat in 2002 when he was its chief minister. An estimated 1,100-2,000 Muslims and Christians were killed and churches destroyed in large-scale communal attacks in that region. There has been no real justice for the victims of the violence and the hundreds of thousands of people displaced by it. Modi has never explained his role or apologized for the failure of his government to respond to the violence.

The current situation for India’s religious minorities is bleak, with violence against religious minorities rising dramatically in 2013. In fact, media reports indicate that violence against Christians and Muslims has continued to increase in the first 100 days of Modi’s term. Only two weeks after he was elected in May, Hindu protesters destroyed more than 200 public buses and private vehicles, pelted mosques with stones and set fire to buildings in two days of chaos in Pune. A Muslim man was beaten to death by seven members of a radical Hindu group. Friends said he was targeted because he had a beard and was wearing an Islamic skullcap.

Since the Sikh riots in 1984, India has experienced horrific communal violence targeting Christians, Muslims, and others. Earlier this year, the Pew Research Center maintained India on its list of countries with “very high social hostilities involving religion” and with “high” government restrictions on religion. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom’s 2013 annual report identified India as one of the 23 worst countries in the world for religious freedom. India is a country “where religious persecution and other violations of religious freedom engaged in or tolerated by the government are increasing,” the Commission concluded.

Extrajudicial executions of religious minorities occur in the context of “encounter killings” or killings that occur during clashes between security forces and alleged armed suspects. Increasingly, the practice of encounter killing has shifted from targeting alleged criminals to targeting alleged terrorists. In fact, the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or, arbitrary executions declared in 2013 that encounter killings in India “have become virtually a part of unofficial State policy.”

Communal violence has been increasing as well. According to Indian government estimates, the first ten months of 2103 saw 725 incidents of communal violence affecting thousands―more bloodshed for religious and sectarian reasons than the entire three-year period from 2010-2012. For example, in August and September of 2013, communal riots broke out in the state of Uttar Pradesh. Clashes between the Hindu and Muslim communities resulted in more than 60 reported deaths and hundreds of injuries, including sexual assault.

Impunity and anti-conversion laws fuel communal violence. This impunity is multifaceted: officials do not hold private parties accountable for communal violence; courts do not hold government officials accountable for sanctioning or encouraging communal violence; obstruction of justice and witness intimidation are commonplace in court procedures tasked with identifying officials complicit in communal violence; and officials accept torture and extrajudicial killings as the norm.

Many are watching how Modi addresses the ongoing human rights violations in his country and whether the United States will discuss—or even acknowledge―them. The United States should live up to its own commitment to human rights by holding itself and its allies to the highest standards. It should take strong bilateral and multilateral action to ensure that the rights of religious minorities in India are adequately protected and that India complies with all of its international human rights obligations. Lives depend on it.

By: Robin Phillips, executive director of The Advocates for Human Rights