Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Domestic Violence in the Sports World

Professional athletes often make the news for interviews, press conferences, and instant replay.  Unfortunately, they also often make the news for non-sports related conduct, specifically regarding incidences of domestic violence.  

Former Minnesota Twin Baseball Player Chuck Knoblauch played professional baseball from 1991 to 2002 and even earned AL Rookie of the Year Honors in 1991. Twelve years after a successful career, The Twins planned to induct Knoblauch into its Hall of Fame until news broke of a recent arrest. According to KHOU in Houston, Knoblauch was arrested for allegedly hitting Cheri, his ex-wife. Knoblauch allegedly stormed into his child’s room where his wife had been sleeping, angry because she slept in the child’s room instead of their's that night, and began to smash her head against the wall. Apparently this was not Knoblauch’s first assault charge. In 2010, Knoblauch hit his other ex-wife, Stacy Stelmach, and received a year's probation.

Knoblauch's mugshot
The induction ceremony was scheduled for August 23, but when his recent arrest hit the news, the Twins cancelled the ceremony. Dave St. Peter, Twins Team President, stated he has no plans to induct Knoblauch into the Twins Hall of Fame as of now, or possibly ever. St. Peter said, "At the end of the day, there's a lot of focus on on-field pieces, but to me the off-field elements are equally important relative to a franchise, its brand, and the reality that our players and former players are role models”.

I think St. Peter made the right decision to not go through with the ceremony. His decision lets every player know that while on field performance matters, how you conduct yourself off the field matters as well. Being inducted into any Hall of Fame is a special privilege that does not come around for everyone. Additionally, it sends a message to fans that domestic violence is always unacceptable, regardless of an athlete's on-field performance.

Sadly, Knoblauch isn’t the only sports figure to make it in the news lately for domestic violence charges.  In February, Ray Rice was arrested for domestic violence, and as a result, he has been suspended for the first two games of the regular season under the NFL’s personal conduct policy. (For more information on Ray Rice and commentary on this decision, read our recent blog post.)

Following the news of Ray Rice’s two game suspension for allegedly hitting his wife, Stephen A. Smith, a co-host of ESPN’s show, “First Take”, commented on the “real, real issue” of domestic violence, but not without assigning blame to survivors of domestic violence situations. Smith stated that while domestic violence is wrong, women also shouldn’t “do anything to provoke wrong actions”. 

Outraged viewers and co-workers prompted the ESPN host to make an extended apology via twitter:

“My series of tweets a short time ago is not an adequate way to capture my thoughts so I am using a single tweet via Twitlonger to more appropriately and effectively clarify my remarks from earlier today about the Ray Rice situation. I completely recognize the sensitivity of the issues and the confusion and disgust that my comments caused. First off, as I said earlier and I want to reiterate strongly, it is never OK to put your hands on a women . Ever. I understand why that important point was lost in my other comments, which did not come out as I intended. I want to state very clearly. I do NOT believe a woman provokes the horrible domestic abuses that are sadly such a major problem in our society. I wasn’t trying to say that or even imply it when I was discussing my own personal upbringing and the important role the women in my family have played in my life. I understand why my comments could be taken another way. I should have done a better job articulating my thoughts and I sincerely apologize.”

His apology would have been MUCH more believable if he hadn't made these types of comments before.

In 2012, NFL Miami Dolphins wide-receiver Chad Johnson was arrested on a misdemeanor domestic violence charge for head-butting his wife. After this incident, Stephen A. Smith defended Chad Johnson on the grounds of his previously spotless record. Smith asked viewers to take a look into the wife's life, same as they were doing with Chad, as he implied she could have provoked her husband.

Had St. Peter shared Smith’s point of view regarding domestic violence, Knoblauch could have been inducted into the Twins Hall of Fame, a privilege he does not deserve. And while Knoblauch apologized for his actions, neither Knoblauch’s nor Smith’s apology was credible. Even if these players believed they were provoked by their wives, just as Smith suggests, what happened to using your words?  Would Smith have argued that Knoblauch was right in beating his wife because she “provoked” him by sleeping in her child’s room? Of course Stephen A. Smith won’t continue to argue that point because of the backlash he continues to receive. On July 28, Smith once again apologized on his show on ESPN, whether his apology is believable is up for the public to decide. Regardless of Smith’s beliefs, his initial statements about how women “provoke” domestic violence are wrong.

Yours in Advocacy,
Lana and Joe

Online Abuse or Freedom of Speech?

Angry tweeting and irrational Facebook statuses are part of the territory—but what if those posts or comments go so far as to threaten one’s life? Do threats made on social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook hold the same gravity as those made in real life? Some may argue no—that, in fact, online threats carry a heavier burden due to the lack of context associated with them, resulting in the inability to deduce the seriousness of a given statement.  This controversy presents itself in the case of the United States v. Elonis.

In 2010, Anthony Douglass Elonis began posting threats on Facebook directed towards his ex-wife and later, his former employer. Elonis was charged with four counts of using interstate communications to threaten harm to an individual and was sentenced to 44 months in prison. After his conviction, he appealed, arguing that the District Court had used incorrect standards to determine the threats of his Facebook posts. He argued that, according to the United States Supreme Court ruling on Virginia v. Black case, his posts did not constitute true threats. Now, because of the “subjective standard” of his case, the United States Supreme Court has agreed to review his case this October.

The controversy over the ruling of this case forces lawmakers to ask: To what extent can an individual justify threatening comments as freedom of speech?  As Oliver Wendall Holmes Jr. said, “The right to swing my fist ends where your nose begins.”  But, in the virtual world, where does my “nose” begin?


I suppose in some cases, figuratively a persons’ “nose” begins when he/she deem comments as inappropriate. A couple days ago a Navy sailor Nicholas Lord stirred up controversy regarding a rape threat he made on a Facebook photo of a delayed entry program recruit.

Although the consequences that the sailor will face for his comments remain unknown, the Navy has been notified of the incident and promises to take the proper steps in punishing the offender. Even though his comment was made online, that does not absolve him of responsibility for a serious threat of sexual assault. 

While it’s hard to separate true threats from sardonic and sexist comments, the United States Secret Service hopes to do so within the next few years. Using specifically designed software, the Secret Service hopes to better monitor and analyze social media sites, such as Twitter. The US Secret Service strives to be able to detect eminent threats and protect citizens by collecting the emotions and profiles of Twitter users.

Threats made on social media are not to be taken lightly. Cyber stalking and harassment are often used by current and former partners as a tool for domestic abuse. Whether it's Elonis' threats against his ex-wife's life or Lord's aggressive rape threat, whether it's on Facebook or Instagram or any other online platform, it still counts as a crime, and in these and many other cases, as a tool in violence against women.

The lack of face-to-face contact that allows individuals to determine threat level stirs controversy over what constitutes a true threat. Regardless, if you or someone you know has been threatened over social media, bring it to the attention of the authorities.  The right to freedom of speech ends where an individual’s concern for his or her safety begins.

Yours in Advocacy,
Lana Levin 

Monday, July 28, 2014

Breaking the Cycle of Hyper-masculinity and Domestic Violence

From a young age, boys are told to “man up.” Fathers tell sons not to cry; Coaches tell boys not to “throw like a girl”; when teenage boys delve too far into their emotions, friends tell them to stop “acting like a sissy.”  All this, along with pre-existing stereotypes found in social media and day-to-day interactions, contribute to the emergence of hyper-masculinity.

Just the words “masculine” and “feminine” separate men and women--and for a member of one gender to be associated with the word commonly associated with the opposite gender is supposedly an insult to that individual. If you’re a man, you are not “supposed to” have more feminine qualities than masculine qualities. So long have these stereotypes been engraved into society that it has become a hard issue to combat. While this is not a call to obliterate traditionally “masculine” qualities or blame them as major causes of domestic violence, the argument stands that there is a correlation between domestic violence and hyper-masculinity, especially in the case of Kosovo.

After the war in Kosovo, hyper-masculinity was revered among men, and as a result, domestic violence became a common household affair. This is not to say that ALL “manly” men are violent. But in Kosovo, even a decade after the end of the war, studies found that 43% of the population had experienced domestic violence. Now, growing up with the stigma and normality of violence has the potential to shape the young people of this country. By targeting male high school students, the Young Men Initiative works to break these stereotypes and stop domestic violence from seeping into the next generation.

The Young Men Initiative, launched by CARE International, has such astounding results that programs like it promise to open in other countries.  Prior to the initiative, 69% of participants viewed strength as the most important quality for a man, but later that number dropped to 42%. In addition, the amount of participants who thought a cheating wife provided justification for violence dropped significantly from 52% to 27%.
Participants in CARE International's Young Men Initiative
Although domestic violence in the United States isn’t as prevalent as in Kosovo, domestic violence still remains a major issue across the nation. Programs similar to the Young Men Initiative in U.S schools could bridge the gender gap and teach boys that it’s okay to have traditionally “feminine” qualities and vice-versa. By targeting individuals at a young age through effective programs that break down the stereotypes associated with gender, domestic violence could see sizable decreases.  Promoting qualities originally deemed feminine, as well as disassociating masculinity and violence, will hopefully put an end to the extreme view of masculinity that some societies and individuals associate with “being a man.”

Yours in Advocacy,
Lana Levin

Friday, July 25, 2014

TRIGGER WARNING: Domestic Violence. Ray Rice Let Off Easy for Beating his Fiancè

Athletes are supposed to be good role models not only for children who look up to them, but for society. Often, this is not the case, though. Ray Rice, the running back for the Baltimore Ravens was recently arrested for Domestic Violence against his then fiancĂ©, Janay Rice. The two married recently after the abuse.  

On February 15, 2014 Ray Rice was seen dragging the body of unconscious Janay out of an elevator by her arms after beating her to unconsciousness. His oh-so-massive punishment for his crime included a two-game suspension. This is just another example of professional athletes escaping punishment for violent crimes, especially those against women. The courts allowed him to enter into a diversionary program to avoid criminal charges and a criminal record. Although this is done for many offenders, it seems to give off the idea that the powerful and famous athletes of the world do not need to be punished for their crimes. 



Many are arguing that more needed to be done, that he needed to be an example for children and adults alike. On May 24, 2014, Rice issued an apology to fans, media, and family members, but is this enough? Violence like this is never excusable and he should have been handed an actual punishment. 

Rice said "There were a lot of tears shed, but me and Janay can truly say that we’re in a better place. Hopefully, one day I’ll gain back everyone’s trust to let you all know that we’re still the same people, and I’m still the same person. I really treat my job as a very special job, and I failed miserably. But I wouldn't call myself a failure, because I’m working my way back up.”

Rice issues apology

Roger Goodell, NFL Commissioner, and the court that prosecuted him failed. A two-game suspension and a diversionary program is not enough to serve justice to survivors of domestic abuse. This suspension was likely a tactic to better his image with the players, but unfortunately, this has caused quite an uproar and has sent the message that players can commit heinous acts against those they claim to love, and get away with it. Domestic violence is never okay. Rice deserves a legitimate legal punishment for his crimes. 

                                                                 Yours in advocacy,
            Joseph Biederman
          DCVLP Intern



Thursday, July 24, 2014

Victim Blaming Judge is Censured

Montana District Judge G. Todd Baugh has faced repercussions for comments he made in a sexual assault case last year. Baugh was publicly censured by the Montana Supreme Court, receiving a public declaration of misconduct. He was also suspended for 31 days, and stated he will retire when his term expires. 

For reference—in the case in question, he sentenced Stacey Dean Rambond, who pled guilty to nonconsensual sex with one of his students, to only 30 days in prison. That's one day shorter than his suspension for misconduct.

And Baugh's reasoning is just as alarming as his decision. During the sentencing, Baugh claimed that the girl Rambond raped, who committed suicide while the case was still pending trial, was "as much in control of the situation as the defendant." He also reportedly said that she "appeared older than her chronological age." Her "chronological age," incidentally, was 14two years below the legal age of consent in Montana. Her rapist was 47 at the time. 

As the girl's teacher, Rambond could hardly be unaware of her age, no matter how old she looked. And as her teacher, Rambond held a position of authority—authority that he clearly abused. By virtue of his age and position, Rambond had sole control over the situation, and therefore should assume sole responsibility. To insinuate otherwise, as Baugh did with his comments, is nothing but victim blaming at its finest. 

These disciplinary measures follow initial public outcry at Baugh's behavior, including an online petition demanding his resignation. Baugh apologized and attempted to change the sentence when he saw the response, but an ongoing state appeal made it impossible to do so. However, the state Supreme Court's decision to have Rambold resentenced by a new judge this fall provides hope of justice in the future. 

In the prepared censure statement Chief Justice Mike McGrath formally reprimanded Baugh for his comments:

"We have determined that, through your inappropriate comments, you have eroded public confidence in the judiciary and created an appearance of impropriety in violation of the Montana Code of Judicial Conduct."

But Baugh's comments do a lot more than just making the court look bad. They prove and perpetuate how our society refuses to hold rapists and abusers accountable for their actions by qualifying their crimes and guilt. Attitudes like his are what allow abusers to justify their behavior, and what prevent survivors from coming forward for fear of ridicule and blameaccording to RAINNan average of 60% of sexual assaults in the last five years were not reportedThe recognition of Baugh's wrongdoing is a step forward, but there is more to be done. 

Yours in Advocacy,
Emily Harburg 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Lady Vloggers: Fearless Heroines of the Internet [Trigger warning]

A few months ago, YouTube vlogger Emily Graslie of The Field Museum in Chicago, made a video called “Where My Ladies At?” In it, she describes her least favorite aspect of vlogging: dealing with sexist YouTube comments.

This issue is bigger than Graslie’s (awesome) channel, The Brain Scoop. There is an endemic problem at YouTube and it is not limited to internet trolls. The never-ending onslaught of comments on Graslie’s appearance distract from the engaging and educational videos she makes. The opinions expressed in the comments normalize misogyny—no matter what she is talking about on screen, her appearance is all that matters.

Let’s start with the soft sexism:  Even the apparently complimentary comments are damaging for female vloggers. When a video about owls is greeted with comments like, “You're a damn sexy scientist!” it completely invalidates the whole video. Sure, it’s a compliment, but it’s NOT THE POINT!

Some YouTubers don’t seem to understand this:

Like the #notallmen trend, this commenter implies that women are indebted to those who compliment them. As if Graslie is making these videos so that people will tell her she is pretty. Sure, compliments on your looks can be flattering, but this video is about science, yo.

Then come the more offensive comments, like this one that is trying to be a compliment (her smarts are what makes her attractive!) but still manages to be violently sexist.

Then there are the hero-making moments that make me wonder how women like Graslie continue to post videos of themselves online. Perhaps the most awful example [trigger warning] of online sexism is the story of pop culture critic Anita Sarkeesian, who created the YouTube channel Feminist Frequency.

In 2012, Sarkeesian started a Kickstarter campaign to fund Feminist Frequency. She wanted to create a series of videos that would deconstruct the sexist portrayal of women in video games. In response to this project, Sarkeesian became the “villain of a massive online game, in real life.” Male gamers around the internet banded together to prevent Sarkeesian from making her series: they flagged her social media sites as spam, they attempted to disperse her personal information including her home address, and they created pornographic imagery using her likeness. Sarkeesian discussed what she calls a “cyber mob” in this TedxWomen talk.

The “cyber mob” came to a head with the release of the incredibly disturbing “Hit Anita Sarkeesian” game. As the player clicks the image of Sarkeesian's face, she becomes increasingly bloodied and bruised.

Online harassment is a problem that must be addressed. It’s not merely an issue of hurt feelings. The images of Sarkeesian’s bruised face are not fun and games. This kind of online behavior normalizes sexist violence and communicates this message to women: get off the internet — or else.

Sarkeesian said it best: “whether it’s a cyber mob or just a handful of hateful comments, the end result is maintaining and reinforcing and normalizing a culture of sexism — where men who harass are supported by their peers and rewarded for their sexist attitudes and behaviors and where women are silenced, marginalized and excluded from full participation.”

Yours in advocacy,

Ashley Johnson

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Problem with Lana Del Rey's Music

From the title of Lana Del Rey’s new song, “Ultraviolence,” one might guess that she is speaking out against violence—who would condone such a thing? But in fact, Del Rey’s song romanticizes domestic violence. The song includes lines like, “he hurt me, but it felt like true love” and “he hit me and it felt like a kiss.” Unfortunately, this is not a new trend for Del Rey. A previous song of hers, “Blue Jeans,” includes imagery of a powerless victim: “You went out every night and baby that’s all right/ I told you that no matter what you did, I’d be by your side.”

Some believe that this is not the real Del Rey. They say that she is simply putting on a persona of a woman who depends on cruel men. Whether or not that is the case, her lyrics still are a glorification of domestic abuse, a serious topic that needs to be represented accurately.

This implicit approval of domestic abuse is especially distressing considering what a big star Del Rey is and the huge impact celebrities have on society. Celebrities have always had influence, but now, in an age of technology, that influence is even more heavily felt. Even if Del Rey is just playing a character through her songs, that persona is what the public sees and hears. And it appears that a lot of people are listening—“Ultraviolence,” the album on which the titular song is found, debuted at number one on the charts and sold 182,000 copies its first week. Artistic license aside, it is wrong for Del Rey to use her music as a platform to popularize a blithe attitude towards an issue that affects one in four women. 

Some stars, like singer Lorde, see the problem in Del Rey’s message. Lorde criticized Del Rey’s work, commenting that “This sort of shirt-tugging, desperate, don’t leave me stuff. That’s not a good thing for young girls, even young people, to hear.” Hopefully, celebrities like Lorde can continue to set good examples despite what their fellow stars say.

Yours in Advocacy,
Hannah Shlaferman
DCVLP Intern