Over the past two weeks, the NFL has been forced to confront the realities of domestic violence as it relates to its teams and players. Unfortunately, much of the coverage has focused on the livelihoods of the players/abusers and the NFL’s handling (or mishandling) of the issue. Little has been written about the sources of domestic violence and the effects on its victims. As a father of a 15-year-old football-playing son, I wanted to take this time to reflect on why this issue is important to me and why it should matter to other men.
One in four women will be affected by domestic violence in their lifetimes. One in four high school girls have been victims of physical or sexual abuse. During my twenty-one year legal career, I have had the opportunity to assist many victims and hear their stories. I have seen the terrible toll that abuse can take on these women and their children. I have also watched them emerge from their circumstances even stronger, thanks to organizations like ours. Domestic violence is a plague, but it can be eradicated.
We need men to take the first steps. Statistically, men are overwhelmingly the abusers in these conflicts. When we create poor ideals of manhood—power, strength, subjugation of women—we create psychological structures that are difficult to remove. If a young boy is taught that he isn’t a man until his first sexual experience, he may take steps to prove his manhood through force. If his only images of women are through music videos, he will quickly objectify women and treat them as a lesser. Both of these situations lead to the development of an abuser.
We also need to demonstrate that conflict resolution can occur peacefully. Men should not view violence as the first resort. Wives and girlfriends must be seen as partners, not opponents or combatants. If a tension-filled issue arises (no matter how it may arise or who “started” the fight), we need to learn to de-escalate the problem. We simply cannot begin hitting, and thereby use a strength advantage to silence a loved one.
Our work begins at home. We need to tell our sons, grandsons, fathers, and brothers, that manhood is defined by how we respect others—particularly, the women in our lives. Our conversations with women should be filled with warmth, not vitriol and expletives. We must set examples every day by demonstrating that kindness, care, and love are attributes of a strong man. Otherwise, there will be a terrible price to pay for our daughters, sisters, and mothers.
There are many other factors that can lead to an abusive relationship (e.g., regularly witnessing abuse as a child). So I don’t mean to simplify a complicated solution. My only desire is to start a dialogue about how we can stop this dreaded epidemic. Let’s stop looking at domestic violence as solely a women’s issue. The inclusion of men is mandatory.
Marcus Delgado is the Board Chairman of Partnership Against Domestic Violence, Georgia’s largest domestic violence prevention agency. PADV’s mission is to end the crime of intimate partner violence and empower its survivors. PADV offers safety and shelter to women and their children, and restores self-sufficiency and control to survivors. To help us in our struggle to end domestic violence, please donate to Partnership Against Domestic Violence at http://www.padv.org.