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Read our latest newsletter: February 2017.

NFL Case Study: Lessons and Outcomes

Sports, and the National Football League (NFL) in particular, are not the typical topic of conversation for those of us working in the sexual and domestic violence fields. Since this past spring, when news first broke of former Baltimore Ravens’ player Ray Rice severely assaulting his soon-to-be wife Janay in an elevator, we have been talking about the NFL almost non-stop. While we know that sexual and domestic violence are not specific to the NFL or its players, the events of recent months offer profound teachable moments for those who work in the field and for each and every one of us.

Lesson #1:  We all have a role to play in ending sexual and domestic violence.  For too long victims have been silenced and these issues dismissed as someone else’s problem. Sexual and domestic violence affects us all – if not as victims, then as friends, family, bystanders and communities. We can turn this around by committing to learn more about these issues, become familiar with available resources and promoting and modeling healthy relationships and behaviors. We don’t have to be the head of a $9 billion organization like the NFL to have an impact. In our roles as parents, friends, co-workers, caregivers and community leaders, we can help educate others about the dynamics of sexual and domestic violence, adopt policies that support survivors and hold offenders accountable, and interrupt the underlying causes of oppression and inequality that foster abuse.  Inspire others by sharing examples on Twitter and Facebook of how you make a difference, and use the hashtag #HowIHelped.

Lesson #2:   Sexual assault and domestic violence are abuses of power and never the victim’s fault.  If you haven’t already done so, check out the #WhyIStayed and #WhyILeft hashtags on Twitter. These powerful personal testimonials demonstrate that violence is manifested in many ways – from physical to sexual, psychological, emotional and financial abuse – and improve our understanding of what helps victims to survive.  By listening to and believing survivors, we help remove the barriers that further isolate and endanger them and show that we support them in the journey towards healing and justice.

Lesson #3:  Clear expectations that sexual and domestic violence will not be tolerated must be consistently enforced – by systems and in communities, in both the public and private sectors.   After Jared Remy murdered his girlfriend Jennifer Martel in 2013, the Massachusetts Legislature took a comprehensive approach to reform our public safety and public health responses to support victims, hold offenders accountable and prevent future violence. Similarly, the mishandling of these issues by the NFL is a wake-up call to all organizations, regardless of size or sector, for the need to develop policies that articulate the response, including ramifications for employment and compensation for abusers as well as support for victims; and address the need for training and education. 

The recent law, Chapter 260 of the Acts of 2014, requires workplaces of 50 or more employees to provide up to 15 (paid or unpaid) days of employment leave for victims to attend to matters related to sexual abuse, domestic violence and stalking. Support for survivors is a critical component that should be accompanied by appropriate and well-thought-out consequences/responses to abusers that will actually help families be safer.

Lesson #4:  Prevention is critical. As with so many public health and social justice issues, we need to look upstream to create awareness and shift attitudes that encourage healthy and safe communities.  Many of Jane Doe Inc.’s member sexual and domestic violence programs are leading the way with creative initiatives that promote respect, equality, safe, thriving communities and healthy relationships for all individuals regardless of race, ethnicity, gender identity or sexual orientation, class, or ability,.  Jane Doe Inc.’s annual Massachusetts White Ribbon Day Campaign calls upon men to be part of the solution by making their own pledge of non-violence and by role-modeling this behavior for other men and boys.  In collaboration with The Network/La Red, our new #IWantAWorld Campaign seeks to raise awareness of sexual and domestic violence in the LGBQ/T communities and expand access to services while at the same time envisioning a world where such violence doesn’t exist. 

Lesson #5:  The biggest lesson of all is one that the movements to end sexual and domestic violence have known since its emergence decades ago: By breaking the silence on these issues, we make it possible for victims to come forward without shame or stigma and invite everyone to be part of the solution.

Throughout October, in recognition of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, JDI and our member programs will hold events and conversations throughout the state to bring more attention to these issues and engage the public. DVAM offers an important time for us to all pause and consider how we can better respond to and prevent violence.

Toni K. Troop is the director of communications for Jane Doe Inc.

This article was originally published in the October 2014 issue of The Provider.

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