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Shedding Light On The 'Silent' Issue Of Domestic Violence

October 16, 2014

At one point in their life, one in four women will be in a physically abusive relationship, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. 

It's a startling statistic, but one that may not be as foreign to the general public as it once was. 

In the wake of former Ravens running back Ray Rice's domestic abuse allegations and his release from the team and indefinite suspension from the NFL, domestic violence has been thrust into a national spotlight. And while the circumstances surrounding Rice's incident were anything but positive, the awareness for domestic abuse that has come from the incident is certainly worth noting. 

"There has definitely been an increase in the media attention," said Sandi Timmins, the executive director for House of Ruth. "What we see is, this is an opportunity for us to talk to the general public about how prevalent the issue is. While it's a single person and incident in the NFL that this has surfaced from, it is really an opportunity for us to make the public aware." 

House of Ruth Maryland is a comprehensive service provider to victims of intimate partner violence and their children. Based in Baltimore, the organization provides emergency shelters, guidance and programs for women, legal counsel and abuse intervention programs for men.

In light of the domestic violence issues facing the NFL, Timmins said House of Ruth has seen a significant increase in media attention. According to Timmins, Ravens president Dick Cass reached out to her back in August -- after the initial news of Rice's charges -- about being more involved in the mission to educate the public about domestic violence.

"I think the biggest message [the Rice incident sends] is that it can happen anywhere, and anybody can be involved in a situation like this," Timmins said. "Clearly, Ray Rice is someone who has been very successful and popular and very high-profile, and it was a surprise to pretty much everyone that this was happening."

Traditionally, Timmins said domestic violence has been a "silent" issue because it is often uncomfortable to talk about. Now that the public has seen the issue in the spotlight, it gives everyone the opportunity to become more educated and aware. 

In the wake of the Rice incident, the NFL and commissioner Roger Goodell has established a new policy for domestic abuse. The policy calls for a six-game suspension for a first offense, and a lifetime ban for a second offense, with the option to petition for reinstatement after one year. 

In a press conference following the release of the second Rice video -- the one that showed Rice striking his now-wife in the elevator of an Atlantic City, N.J., casino -- Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti vowed the team would change its policy on domestic violence going forward.

Ravens: Steve Bisciotti (2013 end-of-season press conference)
Photo Credit: Sabina Moran/PressBox

"I give you my word that some things are going to change. I give you my word," Bisciotti said about the way the team will deal with incidents like Rice's in the future. "Can we avoid situations like Ray Rice's? Absolutely not. Will we handle it differently? 100 percent. I guarantee you we will."

Timmins said that she thinks the NFL is "moving in the right direction" when it comes to establishing policies and procedures to combat domestic violence, but would still like to see more change. She said the most important thing is for the NFL and the public to understand what intimate partner violence is, so they can address it.

"I think the NFL has a remarkable opportunity," Timmins said. "The NFL -- as an organization -- has influence that is enormous in this society. We look up to sports figures in our society, and for them to be able, in a long-term way, to put into place all of the policies … and the message that any, any abuse is completely unacceptable is the kind of message we would like to see, and that could truly make a change." 

Issue 202: October 2014