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Robert Creutz

11-19-97
Column1

“I am not a role model.” That’s what the National Basketball Association’s Charles

Barkley told viewers in a television commercial last year. Guess what, Charles? You are a role

model. Professional athletes, whether they like or not, set an example for our youths. In

Barkley’s case, unfortunately, that example promotes the use of violence to settle disputes.

Charles was recently involved in his umpteenth barroom brawl, throwing a man through a

window. The lesson: if you have an issue with someone, go right ahead and beat the hell out of

him (or her).

As if Charles had not done an adequate job setting a poor example, other prominent

athletes thought they would follow suit. Wil Cordero of the Boston Red Sox was arrested for

domestic abuse. Dennis Johnson, who played with the Boston Celtics during the championship

years, was also arrested for beating his wife. Cordero is currently in a legal battle while Johnson

has been put in a rehabilitation center. These two gentlemen are heroes to many young sports

fans, especially those in New England.

Pointing the fingers at professional athletes, however, is easy. The limelight forces

individuals to bear a greater responsibility when serious issues are concerned. When the pros

screw up, their mistakes are very visible. But what about other people? Pro jocks are not the

only ones involved in domestic violence. The Bureau of Justice reports that a woman is beaten

every 15 seconds. Batterers do not fit a description either. They are husbands, boyfriends, lovers

and partners. They are also doctors, ministers, lawyers, and business executives. Many batterers

are well-respected members of the community.

In 1994, a 35-year-old man named Harold was arrested for domestic abuse. Apparently,

he had jammed a pork chop into his wife’s face, telling her that she disgusted him. Harold’s

abuse was nothing new. One in five women who are victimized report being abused over and

over again by the same person. In the days that followed, Harold’s wife feared so much for her
safety that she finally called the police.

One surprising fact is that Harold, even after years of abuse, did not consider himself a

batterer. Each violent outbreak was seen as an isolated incident. Denial is a common method of

batterers to justify or excuse their actions. Beating your wife because dinner was not ready on

time just doesn’t seem justifiable. Just as unacceptable are isolating women from friends and

constantly questioning their worth. Emotional abuse often goes undetected, but can be as

devastating as physical abuse.

Any logical person must wonder why domestic violence occurs. The schools of thought

are many, but there is some agreement. Some batterers are believed to be hardened criminals

who have convinced themselves that they are entitled to a degree of dominance in their

relationships. Others are thought to be suffering from psychological and developmental scars.

Experts have come up with universal characteristics for those who abuse. They are manipulative,

controlling, and often see themselves as victims.

In one Maryland treatment center, a survey found that 75 percent of batterers had

witnessed some form of abuse in their childhood. Fifty percent had been victims of domestic

abuse. The moral of the story is that domestic violence is largely a learned behavior. But if this

behavior is learned, then physical violence would be widespread among our youth, who are most

susceptible to this misguidance. It is.

At a high school in New Bedford, Massachusetts, incidents of physical and emotional

abuse are increasing. One guidance counselor pulled into the school parking lot just in time to

see a boy slap his girlfriend across the face. One 16-year-old student from a different school was

asked his views on violence in relationships. The student responded that hitting someone was

wrong, but sometimes they ask for it. He added, “Violence is okay. Sometimes when she gets

out of line.” Imagine the world if everyone took this view. Imagine shades of black and blue.

Another high school student recalled an incident he had seen. A girl scratched and

clawed at a boy until he bled. As if she had failed to get her point across, she threw salt in his

wounds. In high schools across the country, students are smashing heads into windows, grabbing
hair, punching, yelling, and kicking. Where are these youths learning this behavior?

Domestic violence isn’t a problem that can be solved in a day. Solutions are, however,

available. Many women experience self-blame. They feel they are the reason for the violence.

Others remain quiet out of fear for their safety. Still others worry that they cannot survive

without their spouse. Women need to be strong. If they cannot tell the authorities about their

victimization, then they should tell friends who will do so. A problem that is not known will not

be solved. Once incidents of domestic violence are in the open, some options become available.

Shelters for battered women number in the thousands across the United States. Women need to

be aware that they have a place to go. For batterers, rehabilitation centers can provide a road to

recover. A number of relationships have been saved thanks to rehabilitation.

The problem of domestic violence is too widespread. In a society where all people are

equal, no person should be subjected to emotional or physical harm. Relationships should foster

love and understanding. In the equation, violence does not have a place. If people act peacefully

and lovingly toward others, they are, in essence, setting the proper example.