Baseball Doesn’t Understand the Cause of Domestic Violence
New York Mets pitcher Jeurys Familia was arrested last Halloween for assaulting his wife. Undoubtedly under enormous pressure, his wife convinced the prosecutor to drop the charges. Domestic violence crimes are often difficult to prove beyond a reasonable doubt without the testimony of the victim, particularly if a thorough evidence-based investigation was not made at the time of the crime.
Major League Baseball’s policy is clear that the lack of a conviction does not preclude punishment for domestic violence and the league does not require proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Familia’s wife had visible injuries which is why the criminal charges were brought in the first place. After a long investigation, Commissioner Manfred announced that Familia would receive a suspension of only 15 days which is far less than other recent offenders received.
Baseball was quite properly criticized for the short suspension, long time taken to investigate and the failure to clearly explain his offense. Far more troubling is that in announcing its response to Familia’s assault, the baseball authorities demonstrated they are clueless in understanding the cause of domestic violence.
The Commissioner emphasized that Familia had voluntarily attended counseling sessions with someone who claimed to specialize in domestic violence. This was treated as if it was a mitigating factor. In reality, abusers often participate in ineffective programs in order to convince their partners or the judges that they have changed. In this case it was the Commissioner he was manipulating.
The idea that domestic violence is caused by mental health issues is a misconception that developed in the 1970s when no research was available. The research has been clear for decades that domestic violence is not caused by mental illness. Abusers who also have mental health problems have less inhibitions so their abuse may be more severe, but the illness is not the cause. Only accountability and monitoring have been shown to change abusers’ behavior, but the ignorance of this fundamental information led the commissioner to minimize the accountability Familia would receive.
Authorities Must Learn the Cause of Domestic Violence
Major League Baseball purportedly made a major effort to improve its response to domestic violence in response to the series of domestic violence and child abuse cases mishandled by the NFL. Baseball cannot play its role in preventing domestic violence, however, if it does not even understand the cause of domestic violence. I understand the leaders of major league baseball cannot be expected to be experts in domestic violence and might not know to ask an expert if the therapeutic sessions would be beneficial. They could, however explain the circumstances and their proposed response and seek feedback from a DV expert before making a mockery of their promise to take domestic violence seriously.
In fairness, Baseball is far from alone in failing to understand the causes of domestic violence. Many criminal courts routinely respond to domestic violence crimes with ineffective practices like therapy, anger management and leniency. Custody courts regularly assume the end of the relationship also ends the danger. They fail to consider that the victim did not cause his abuse and he will likely abuse future partners. This is critical because it means the children will be exposed to further abuse unless he is stopped.
There is a long history of society allowing and even encouraging husbands to control; assault and discipline their wives. The first law in the United States concerning what we now call domestic violence said husbands cannot beat their wives―-ON SUNDAY. In other words any other day men’s assaults on their wives were acceptable. Although the laws have changed the old beliefs are widespread. It is all too common for men today to believe they are better than their partners; they are entitled to make the decisions in the relationship and have the privilege of enforcing their rules.
In one of the batterer classes I teach, a man proudly said he was a wonderful husband because he let his wife pick out the furniture. I pointed out that his assumption was that because he was the man he was entitled to make the decisions but allowed her to make this one decision. He said I misunderstood what he said and tried to rephrase his statement. The other men in the class started to laugh as he really repeated the same thing and eventually he joined in. These are the kind of unconscious assumptions that lead men to enforce their “rights and privileges.”
We cannot prevent domestic violence without understanding the cause. More than the ignorant statements of a baseball commissioner, it disturbs me that the media did not respond by correcting his misinformation. The year is now 2017. We cannot continue to accept the myth that domestic violence is caused by mental illness.
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