In the wake of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s failed Friday press conference, the debate still rages on as to whether enough retribution has been inflicted on Ray Rice and others to prove that Goodell actually gets it. In that sense the comparisons of American professional football to the blood-sport of ancient Rome that became common a few years back seem almost prophetic. “You have displeased us. To the lions with you!”
Despite my own propensities toward it, I wonder if the you-have-done-bad-we-will-do-worse-to-you approach is the best possible response to anything, let alone domestic violence. It surely isn’t if restoration of the family unit is the goal. If punishment for wrongdoing is the goal, perhaps it will suffice. However, forcibly divesting a family of income, forcibly divesting a mate of her/his intimate partner, forcibly divesting a child of her/his parent punishes the entire family, not just an abuser.
Putting aside for a moment how repulsed we are by violence done to women and children in the home and the history of neglect that has obscured such violence in the past, let’s consider the interest of the family involved and our duty of support to that family. No one wants to lose their family, if they can help it. We are well aware of the measurable psychological, sociological, financial and other costs associated with broken homes. Forced family disintegration was one of the hallmarks of chattel slavery; it is not something a society seeking justice should ever think to impose on anyone. Provided the abuser has not demonstrated a life-threatening loss of impulse control and if the survivor(s) expresses a non-coerced desire to pursue restorative therapy and as long as the abuser is committed to appropriate therapeutic and legal accountability, who are we as a society to stand in the way of that family’s attempt to pursue health and healing?
Believing that we shouldn’t then raises several questions for me. Does it serve the goal of restoration to strip the abuser of his ability to provide for his family? Does potential loss of income make it more or less likely that a victim would come forward in acknowledgement of abuse? What other social expectations or public policies make it more difficult for victims to seek help? Can employers, who have a undeniable public relations interest in the outcome of any abuse scandal, ever be trusted to be the unbiased arbiters of what is appropriate in cases of domestic violence? Does our societal interest in correcting past wrongs, discouraging future misbehavior and protecting women (sometimes men) and children currently victims of violence ever trump a particular family’s interest in working things out?
As much as I am against allowing employers to be actual arbiters in domestic disputes, it seems to me relatively clear that they are the social institution best positioned to provide incentive for domestic partners to seek the help they need. As an act of good corporate citizenship, employers could enter into a 3rd-party arbitrated agreement of cooperation with the therapeutic and legal accountability plan that the family is pursuing. Such cooperation may include schedule accommodations for counseling or, in similitude to garnishment of wages for alimony/child support, a “family support trust fund” into which up to half of the employee’s income is paid each month, to be used for whatever, including household expenses, but kept under the strict control of the abuser’s spouse or children. The goal wouldn’t be to punish, but rather to leverage the opportunity to continue to earn income as incentive to remain committed to the therapeutic and legal process.
I’m particularly interested in what women in general and anti-domestic violence professionals or domestic violence survivors might think. Is this an appropriate roll for employers to play? Is this worth advocating as it relates to the NFL, as opposed to the simple resignation of Roger Goodell or the continued chastisement of Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson and others?
I’ve been seeking to listen deeply, while standing in solidarity with all who work to end violence against women. Here are two conversations I’ve found particularly insightful (in addition to others noted in previous posts):
MHP 14 Sept 2014 | “BeLEAGUEred: What If a Women Became NFL Commisioner?”
MHP 13 Sept 2014 | “Domestic Violence: ‘Leaving Doesn’t Make You Safer'”
MHP 13 Sept 2014 | http://http://on.msnbc.com/1wjRiLW
MHP 21 Sept 2014 | “BeLEAGUEred: Fans Exchange Ray Rice Jerseys”