The much-anticipated Mueller Report on the handling of the Ray Rice case was released last week, with most public attention centered on one key finding: There is no evidence NFL officials possessed or saw the video of Mr. Rice assaulting his then-fiancée inside the elevator of an Atlantic City hotel prior to its public release. The implication is that league leadership didn't press hard enough for details in the domestic violence incident and didn't take it as seriously as they should have.
But there is a danger that important recommendations of the report are being overlooked in the media buzz over its release, which would be most unfortunate. Those recommendations go to the heart of how the NFL, and other professional sports leagues, can best address allegations of domestic violence in a transparent and effective manner going forward.
The Mueller report urges the NFL to establish a specialized team of experienced domestic violence and sexual assault investigators and victim witness advocates to investigate domestic violence reports. In my experience as a nurse caring for victims of domestic violence, as well as a researcher on domestic violence and its prevention, I know that it is essential for police, medical personnel and all those involved in investigating such allegations to understand how and why abuse occurs, and why victims often minimize their assault. Professionals must be aware of the signs of abuse as well as the resources available to help both the victim and the abuser.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, domestic violence is one of our nation's most underreported crimes. Approximately one-quarter of all physical assaults, one-fifth of all rapes, and one-half of all stalking incidents perpetuated against females by intimate partners are reported to the police, according to a report by the National Institute of Justice and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Think about that for a minute. It is staggering.
Domestic abuse affects women across all socioeconomic levels. However, because women with greater resources are able to seek help privately through a doctor or an attorney and have the ability to pay for housing rather than turn to a shelter, they often do not seek out public agencies for help. Statistics on abuse are generally reported by public agencies, which makes it appear as if the problem is occurring in greater frequency among women with lower socioeconomic backgrounds. That is simply not the case. Domestic violence permeates all socioeconomic levels.
Another key finding of the Mueller Report must not be overlooked: the need for formal annual domestic assault and sexual violence training and education for all NFL security personnel to ensure greater understanding and swifter responses. Recognizing and knowing how to respond to domestic violence is a vital part of the training for all first responders, as well as the investigators who follow up.
The responsibility for reducing domestic violence must become the work of every NFL fan, of every sports fan, and of society at large. This is the only way we will create lasting and effective change.
The problem is not one for sports leagues alone, but the NFL, with its high visibility, can help put the critical issue of domestic violence at the top of the national agenda. This is an opportune time for the league to take a leadership role in demonstrating its commitment not only to its players but to the scores of women from all walks of life who are victims of abuse.
Marylou Yam is the president of Notre Dame of Maryland University, the women's college of Maryland. She is also a registered nurse who has had clinical experience caring for victims of domestic violence and has conducted significant research in the area. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.