Of course, it’s a coincidence that these two cases are in the public eye at the same moment, thousands of miles apart. No, Ray Rice did not kill his fiancée; he knocked her out cold. But, in this country, as in South Africa, the abuse and, yes, the murder of women is beyond horrendous, and most cases go unpunished or, unless the accused is a big guy with big bucks and a big rep, unnoticed. (And many times even then.) … For many, the Pistorius verdict was a disappointment; though he has still been convicted of a serious crime, with the possibility of up to fifteen years in prison, he escaped the most serious consequences.
Hadley Freeman’s take:
We know what it takes for people to believe that a woman has been abused by a famous, powerful man: they need to witness the actual abuse. The NFL only accepted that American footballer Ray Rice had done a Really Bad Thing when the video of him slugging his then fiancee Janay Palmer unconscious in an elevator was leaked [last] week. The earlier video of him dragging her unconscious out of the lift was, apparently, not good enough: the NFL had to see the punch because previously they’d apparently thought he knocked her out with a kiss. Rice, like Pistorius, was simply too lucrative for the sporting industry to lose just because of a pesky domestic-abuse charge.
Within minutes of [Judge Thokozile] Masipa wrapping up her verdict, South Africa’s Paralympic committee issued a statement that “if Pistorius wishes to resume his athletics career then we wouldn’t step in his way”. What’s a little culpable homicide between colleagues?
Denise Brown (sister of the late Nicole) brings a personal touch:
My sister was once overheard saying, “He’s going to kill me and get away with it.” And it’s been alleged that O.J. Simpson was once overheard screaming at my sister’s grave and blaming her for what she has done to him and his life. Until all of us have zero tolerance for domestic violence, especially from male athletes—who, with their superstar statuses are protected and coddled rather than held up to a higher standard of being—we will see this horror played out again and again.
Others are asking, more generally, how to address domestic violence. Jonathan Cohn has some policy suggestions:
Broad, cultural messages appear to make a difference—not just what young children see and hear, from their families and neighbors but also from their role models on television and in sports arenas, may have an impact. In addition, many researchers think it’s possible to reach kids more directly, through schools or through their parents. According to these researchers, themes should include how men treat women—and how they express their own emotions. “[We should] raise boys and men so they know it’s fine to cry and to show fear or other ‘weakness,’ and that expressing anger is not the only acceptable emotion for males,” says Nancy Lemon, Boalt Lecturer at the University of California-Berkeley Law School and author a leading textbook on domestic violence law. Among the ideal targets for the interventions are the kids most at risk of becoming abusers later in life—the ones who, while very young, are victims of or witnesses to abuse in their homes.
It all sounds very plausible. And there’s sporadic evidence that some programs have produced positive results on a small scale—for example, 2000 California high-schoolers who participated in a program called “Coaching Boys Into Men” said they were less likely to engage in abusive behavior and more likely to stop a friend from showing abusive behavior. But overwhelming social science evidence, the kind that undergirds other successful government and private sector programs, doesn’t really exist—partly because nobody has had the funds or opportunity to do the necessary, long-term research. “We don’t really know for sure what works,” says Richard Gelles, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and author of The Violent Home.
Eugene Volokh notes a challenge of zero-tolerance policies:
Indeed, my understanding is that this is already one reason why some wives don’t report abuse by their husbands: If the husband is arrested and imprisoned, he’ll lose his job, and when that happens the family loses, too. But a zero-tolerance policy, under which the employer obligates itself to permanently fire the husband, and in a situation where the loss of income has such a dramatic financial effect, would only exacerbate the problem. This is an aspect of what I call the anti cooperative effect of law: Sometimes measures to fight crime actually cause people to fear cooperating with law enforcement.
Now maybe on balance a zero-tolerance policy would still do more good than harm. The senators’ letter argues, for instance, that the policy would “send a strong message that the league will not tolerate violence against women by its players, who are role models for children across America.” If that’s right, then maybe (1) the deterrent effects plus (2) the norm-setting effects (the message sent to children across America) will on balance protect women more than the anticooperative effects will jeopardize them.
But on the other hand, the anticooperative effect will, at least in some measure, decrease the deterrent effect.