In late July, the Urban Meyer story broke. Mr. Meyer is (as of writing this) on administrative leave as the head football coach at Ohio State University. He’s won two national championships and his legacy could all lay in ruin because of intimate partner violence — not by his hand, but by the hand of his former assistant coach, Zach Smith. A coach who was part of Mr. Meyer’s team when he coached at the University of Florida and was brought with Mr. Meyer to Ohio State.
While we may never know the truth about who did and said what and when, this story highlights several things about intimate partner violence as an issue that we need to be aware of, and we simply must change.
Zach Smith was accused of abusing his then-wife, Courtney, when she was pregnant in 2015. Research shows that women who are abused during pregnancy are less likely to seek consistent prenatal care, and intimate partner violence doubles the risk of premature birth.
Courtney Smith allegedly reached out to Mr. Meyer’s wife, a friend, who told Courtney to “hang in there” and that Zach “scares me.” When intimate partner violence happens in the community or within a circle of friends, there is often a lack of understanding of how to intervene, or well-intentioned intervention comes in ways that are detrimental to the victim.
Others allegedly called Courtney and told her that her husband would never coach again if she went public (he was fired). Many victims are scared to come forward because they rely on the abuser for financial support for themselves and/or their children. To disclose to the community could cause the abuser to lose his job. To call the police could lead to his arrest. Either situation has a serious lasting effect on financial stability for all involved.
Nearly as soon as the story broke, there was a secondary dialogue that accused Courtney Smith of being a “drunk,” having a history of repeated DUI’s and that her calls to 911 were no longer being responded to because they weren’t “credible.” Even in 2018, despite the #MeToo movement and so many advances in awareness of intimate partner violence and violence against women, there is still a near immediate backlash against any victim who comes forward. All too often the spotlight is put on the victim, and her actions, appearance or behavior are viewed as being the cause of the abuse. There is never an excuse for abuse. Victim blaming must stop.
Charges were dropped, repeatedly, against Zach Smith. This is very common in intimate partner violence. Criminal charges are dropped for a variety of reasons – the victim is too afraid to face her abuser in court, she’s been threatened with more harm if she proceeds, the abuser has made amends and promised it will never happen again. Dropping charges does not mean the abuser didn’t commit the crime.
Intimate partner violence may happen at home behind closed doors, but it affects people we care about, our community and our workplace. We all have a responsibility to address it. In order to be effective, we need to understand the dynamics of the power and control an abuser wields, and we need to be better informed of the most effective way to provide support to the person being abused. We must insist on accountability. And we must do this with an eye to avoiding unintended consequences.
The Urban Meyer situation provides a snapshot of IPV in the United States. There’s nothing unique about this story, except that it’s about someone who is famous. With one in four women finding themselves in physically violent relationships, this story is played out in communities of every socio-economic definition throughout the nation. Victims everywhere face the same blame, seek the same support. And far too often perpetrators do not face consequences for their actions.
Sandi Timmins is the executive director at House of Ruth Maryland and can be reached at email@example.com or through www.hruth.org.