It’s Sunday – Football Sunday – in the month of October. Millions of fans watch as professional football players with the size and physique of Greek Gods take the field wearing pink.
Pink is the adopted color for Breast Cancer Awareness month. Players wear pink in homage to the efforts of a multi-million dollar strong non-for-profit organization that started the campaign more than 30 years ago.
But, October is not just for breast cancer.
October is for Halloween, masquerades and people dressing up to pretend to be something they are not. Ghosts. Witches. Princesses.
The month of October is also set aside for Domestic Violence Awareness – a topic all too familiar with the National Football League, too. According to a database maintained by USA Today, there have been 97 domestic violence related arrests of professional football players since 2000.
Lightning stuck upon the subject in the months that followed a February 2014 incident involving Ray Rice and his then-fiancé Janay Palmer at an Atlantic City casino. First reports showed security camera footage of the two walking together into an elevator, followed by another shot with Rice dragging his unconscious fiancé out. A grand jury indicted Rice on a charge of third-degree aggravated assault, and the NFL would initially suspend him for two games.
Karen Ziegler, Director of the Albany County Crime Victims and Sexual Violence Center, calls the subject of domestic violence a “closed-door” crime, as one doesn’t often see it out in the open. According to Albany County statistics, 1909 domestic incidents were reported in 2014. That’s an emphasis on the word reported.
“We could probably more than double that number,” said Ziegler, who said many more cases go unreported. “In many cases, a family has a history of domestic violence. If the mother put up with it, the daughter is expected to put up with it, too.”
Critics of the football league’s two-game suspension thought the punishment was too lenient. That criticism only grew louder after security footage from the casino leaked to the press, revealing what happened behind the elevator’s closed doors: Rice, a 206-pound professional athlete, landing a left hook on an unsuspecting woman, her head bouncing off the elevator car’s hand railing before she hit the floor.
“It absolutely walks across all walks of life and socio-economic classes,” said Ziegler. “No one wants to think of the judge, the fire chief, the CEO, because they are all nice guys.”
The public outcry that followed would prompt Rice’s employer, the Baltimore Ravens, of which he was a running back, to cut him. He has yet to play since. Rice and Palmer married six weeks after the February 2014 incident.
Palmer’s decision to stay with Rice sparked criticism of its own, many of whom could not understand why she’d choose to stay with an abusive partner. Though Ziegler was not commenting about the Rice incident in particular, she said people have to be careful about making such judgements.
“The women love their men,” she said. “They want the violence to stop. They may have children together. But, they want the violence to stop.” She said victims of domestic violence know the situation best and are sometimes attempting to ward off a more violent exchange from occurring.
In other cases, it could also be a matter of faith.
Mother Anne Curtin of Healing a Woman’s Soul (HAWS) in Albany, works with Albany County’s abuse shelters to “provide a spiritual presence.”
“We do a lot for women, but we don’t do enough because we don’t have the resources,” she said.
HAWS encourages people to start the conversation about domestic violence. Those familiar with the program wear buttons that read “Who is YOUR 1 in 4?” The one in four figure is an estimated statistic that figures one in every four women are victims of domestic abuse. The abuse can range from financial, to psychological, as well as to physical and violent.
Curtin often sees women conflicted with a faith that obligates them to stay committed to marriage. Curtin, an Episcopal priest in the Albany Dioceses, reminds them, “Jesus walked away from an abusive situation. They wanted to push Him off a cliff and He walked away from it.”
HAWS started as a program six years ago to help those within the parish, but it has since grown to address the needs of the Capital District, and one that has been recognized by the American Institute for Public Service.
“This is supposed to be my retirement,” said Curtin. When offered a word of condolence, she responds: “Oh, no. Watching God’s work is a wonderful thing.”
The Albany County Crime Victims and Sexual Violence Center operates a 24-hour assault hotline for crisis counseling and advocacy at local hospitals and police stations for victims of sexual assault. Free, confidential therapy for victims is available Monday through Friday by appointment. Friends and family members of crime victims can also schedule therapy.
In addition to self-referral, clients are referred through court advocates, Albany County courts, the District Attorney, County departments, medical and mental health providers, social workers, child abuse workers, schools, colleges and universities, law enforcement and the multiple community agencies that partner with and support the Center. The Center maintains an extensive network of referral resources for its clients. This network can help crime victims locate immediate and long-term services such as counseling, crisis intervention, social services agencies, shelter and housing, medical assistance, legal services, domestic violence specialists, food pantries, substance abuse treatment and more.
Healing a Woman’s Soul hosts its 7th annual Journey of Hope fund raising event on Saturday, Oct. 17, from 6 to 8:30 p.m., at the St. Paul’s Episcopal Church at 21 Hackett Boulevard in Albany. A silent auction will be on hand, as well as a hot and cold buffet and beverages. For more information, call 439-8574.
Editor’s Note: If you are in a dangerous situation at home, there is a 24-hour crisis and support line at 800-799-7233. For the deaf or hard of hearing, call 800-787-3224 for a dedicated TTY line. And, if you are in immediate danger, please call 911.
Michael Hallisey is managing editor of Spotlight Newspapers.