A Ray of Hope: Punishing Domestic Violence

IMG_2658 (2)By: Mary Robertson

Monday September 8, 2014, I was starting my third week as a sophomore in college, after going to my 8 am class and my 9:30 am class, I had gone back to my room and turned on ESPN.  The first thing I saw was “Video of Ray Rice Punching Girlfriend.”  And so the rage began.  I had heard about Ray Rice a couple times, but I had previously not given it much thought, but this video changed that.  I did research to see what had actually happened before that day and was immediately enraged. Why did the NFL only give him a two game suspension before the video surfaced?  It was clearly domestic violence!  How could some people still support Ray Rice?  Why was his punishment so lenient? And then a sense of uneasiness came over me when I realized that I was giving into a double standard.

June 21, 2014 US Women’s National Team goalkeeper, Hope Solo, was arrested for domestic violence assault against her half-sister, Teresa Obert, and Obert’s 17 year old son, whose name was never released because he was a minor at the time of the incident.  According to Obert, Solo and Obert’s son never had a good relationship.

“She has tried to make him feel small his whole life. He’s not aggressive. She’s a trained athlete. She’s strong.”

After a series of verbal attacks on each other, Solo charged at Obert’s son and punched him in the face repeatedly.  After Obert became involved and a series of back and forth attacks, the police knocked on the door.  Once the police had assessed the situation, they believed that they had probable cause to arrest Solo on two counts of domestic violence in the fourth degree.  The police reports say that once in the handcuffs, Solo insulted the officers multiple times and at one point had to be taken to the ground so that they could control her.

Solo spent two days in jail before she was released.  One week later, she played in a game for her team, Seattle Reign FC.  It was not until three months later that the U.S. Soccer Federation made a statement about the incident, in which they stated that Solo would be allowed to continue to play.

It is no secret that women’s sports get less attention than men’s.  But does that mean that when women are the aggressors in domestic violence less attention should be given?  Domestic violence is often thought of as women being the victims. But what most people do not realize is that 40% of reported domestic violence involves men as victims and women as aggressors.  Even though women are most commonly the victims, men do make up a large portion of the victim pool.

Although the Rice and Solo cases are not identical, they are similar.  What really happened in that house, no one besides Solo, Obert, and Obert’s son know.   And before the elevator video surfaced, no one but Rice and his now wife knew what happened in there.  The uproar that was caused by the video of Rice dragging Palmer out of the elevator was exponentially higher than the media attention that Hope Solo received.  Why is that?  It is because she is a woman.

When the video of Rice surfaced that September morning, for the rest of the day Ray Rice was the topic of conversation on every channel that I turned to.  And he continued to be the topic for a couple days after the video was released.  I had heard about Hope Solo being arrested, but the media coverage on the topic was completely different from Rice’s media coverage.  Solo was a lead story for maybe one day.

We talk about how women are treated unfairly because of their gender, that they do not get as much credit for the things they do and that they are just seen as sexual objects.  The term “double standard” is used frequently in this debate.  What many fail to realize is that double standards do not just have a negative effect on women, but on men as well.  But when a double standard works in favor of women, it is not called a double standard, it is called “being a real man.”  These double standards are all around us, but are so hidden because of the way that women have been oppressed for so long.  We live in a world where a woman does not receive any punishment for beating her family, but she is suspended from her job for getting in the car with a drunk driver.

A lot of the talk surrounding Ray Rice has to do with his physical size.  Rice is 5-foot-8-inches and was last recorded at 212 pounds.  The weight might seem a little high considering he is not that tall, but it is all muscle. Rice’s size makes it seem so much worse that he would hit his girlfriend the way he did.  It does not take much effort, on his part, to deliver a blow devastating enough to knock out his 5-foot-7-inches girlfriend.

Just because Solo is a woman does not mean that she could not have done much damage.  Solo is 5-foot-9-inches and 150 pounds.  Just by looking at her you can see how muscular she is and that she has an athletic build.  She plays professional soccer and has been called the best goalkeeper in the world. Solo is an athlete, but not just any athlete, she is an Olympic athlete.

The real issue here is that Ray Rice has been punished by the NFL.  The US Soccer Federation and FIFA have not punished Solo for this incident at all.  Before the second video was released, Rice was suspended for two games because of the pressure from the media.  Following the decision to suspend Rice, the NFL changed their entire domestic violence policy which included a six game suspension for first offenses and a lifelong ban for second offenses.  When the elevator video surfaced, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell claimed that Rice had told him a different story, a statement that was later proved to be false.

Even when he had not been found guilty, Rice received a two game suspension.  Some say it should have been a greater punishment, but without any evidence that is an appropriate punishment.  Granted this punishment was probably a result of the media and fans calling for some sort of action from Goodell.  As a professional athlete, you represent something and the negative press you bring in is unacceptable.  Just putting yourself in a situation that does not look good calls for a punishment if you are a public figure.  Once you are proven guilty, a greater punishment should come about. Or at least that is how I feel.

The only punishment Solo received was the time she spent in jail immediately following her arrest.  In January 2015, Solo’s husband, former NFL player Jerramy Stevens, was arrested for driving while intoxicated and Solo was in the car.  Solo received a 30 day suspension from US Soccer Federation because of this.  So she received a punishment for putting herself in danger, but not for being the danger.

Not only do women’s sports receive less attention than men’s, but women’s crimes receive less attention as well.  For years women’s rights have been oppressed and women have received unfair treatment.  As a society we cannot pick and choose when women will be treated fairly and when they will not.  If you want the right to vote, you need to get punished for being abusive.  Double standards should not exist in any situation.

The case against Solo was dismissed in January 2015 because Obert and her son were being uncooperative and the prosecution was not following procedure regarding witnesses.  It looked as though Solo was not going to be punished for her actions until October 2015, when an appeal was granted that reversed the dismissal of the case.  Reversing a dismissed case is a very rare occurrence, but it shows that we cannot let domestic violence go unpunished because the woman was the aggressor or because of her status.  Hopefully, Solo’s case will not only help demolish the double standard that when it comes to women as aggressors, but also raise awareness of the men involved in the near 50% of domestic violence cases that are against men.

“If a woman’s womb, a woman’s vote and a woman’s buying power are important, so are her mistakes.”

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