Depp v Heard fallout

I don’t care to rehash the media circus surrounding this case. My concern is the inevitable fallout this will create. Victims will be afraid to come forward and abusers will be emboldened with a new threat: If you tell as anyone, I will sue you and drag you through the mud, taking everything from you.

Most victim of Intimate Partner Violence and sexual assault do not make police reports. Or they report late, mix up facts, and other issues related to the traumatic experience. These common responses to trauma are often misconceived as lying. It is hard for any jury to understand, even in the best of circumstances.

I foresee abusers now having another tool to silence their victims. The already horrific responses colleges make when “investigating” campus sexual assaults, will now further silence victims for fear of being sued for damaging the future of their attacker. We already see college administrators refusing to pursue discipline because they don’t want to harm the future of the abuser. No mention, of course, about the harm they are doing to the victim’s future.

I think we are about to have a tsunami effect from the outcome of this case.


so…Mayweather gets paid over a hundred million dollars for winning the big fight last night. Apparently, he beats his wives for free. Four times he has been picked up for domestic violence. I guess our domestic violence policy for athletes only applies when they want it to. Why isn’t he banned from the sport? If he had four busts for substance abuse, what would be the outcome? Guess it’s more serious if he uses drugs than that he beats women. So, let’s all celebrate the big fight. And let’s be sure not to give a damn that he uses those same skils to physically beat women.

WNBA domestic violence policy

With all the publicity about male athletes committing domestic violence, each of the major sports leagues has been mandated to implement a policy in dealing with players who commit domestic violence. Interestingly, the WNBA was not on the mandated list. Maybe because people don’t think it could be an issue for the women players, in spite of the fact that there have been some previous incidents.

A few years ago, Chamique Holdsclaw was arrested for holding her ex-girlfriend at gunpoint. A couple of other women were arrested in previous years for domestic violence on girlfriends or exes.

This most recent event caused a stir and made the newspapers because of the high profile of the players involved. Brittany Griner is the 6’8″ player with the Phoenix Mercury. Her fiancé, Glory Johnson, was also arrested. One reason this incident drew such notice is because this couple is very high profile. Their engagement was highlighted by ESPN and the league. They were even selected by “Say Yes to the Dress” to be shown on their program. This couple became the immediate “face” of normalizing lesbian couples in the WNBA. 

They had recently bought and moved into a home outside of Phoenix. (Glory plays for Tulsa.). They got into a physical fight that erupted, calmed down, and erupted again. Police were called. Both were arrested and charged with battery. Neither had serious injuries.

Their statement afterward sounded just like the men.  Please respect our privacy as we deal with this family matter. Sorry, but you forfeited that privacy when you were arrested for domestic violence. 

What a disappointment. Yes, we know that lesbian couples engage in domestic violence. But, it is extremely disappointing that two women who have chosen to make their relationship so public, then engage in behaviors that tarnish lesbians and the WNBA. 

Whatever their issues, I hope Brittany Griner and Glory Johnson seek appropriate help to deal with this.  And I hope the WNBA shows the courage to deal with this issue head on. Just as male athletes have been suspended for domestic violence, these players should be as well. The WNBA should have zero tolerance for domestic violence.

Super Bowl and Domestic Violence

I think by now most people are aware that the NFL is going to play a public service announcement during the super bowl about domestic violence. It’s a powerful ad and will, undoubtedly, save lives. This ad will result in hundreds of calls to the national domestic violence hotline, as well as calls to local hot lines. Women who were too scared to call, will take courage from this ad. Made no mistake, this will be the most watched domestic violence ad ever seen.

I seriously doubt that most 911 operators would respond in this way to this caller. However, this ad may serve as a training for them as well. They get so many crank calls that they might not pick up on this.

Now, let me clear something up. Several years ago, a public service announcement aired prior to the super bowl, saying that there was more domestic violence on super bowl Sunday than any other day. This is NOT true. Some agency promoted this information, which is a myth. Yes, there is high use of alcohol during the super bowl. But, the fact is that there is not an increase of domestic violent on that day. I heard some guy on tv today using that old, false data as if it were true.

All that notwithstanding, there is a very real domestic violence problem in this country, and among professional athletes. The NFL’s piss poor handling of the Ray Rice case and subsequent cases that came quickly thereafter, has embarrassed the league. They are not showing this ad because they are altruistic, but because they got caught with their pants down on this issue. Now they have to get in front of it. And they are on the world’s biggest platform.

Excellent ad. Know these things are real. Domestic violence is real. Women and children are dying every day. Reach out. Know the resources available in your community. Hopefully, you never need it but someone you know might.

Family Law Enforcement

First, I apologize for the long delay since my last posting.

Second, let’s get back to business. As most people are aware (to varying degrees) there are a whole host of laws that exist for family law cases. Most people (unless they run into the family law buzz saw) assume these laws are followed and judges make their decisions based on these laws.

We have worked hard in California to pass laws protecting children who are exposed to family violence. We have some pretty good laws on the books. The problem is: family law judges routinely disregard the laws. And there has been very little oversight to correct this problem. When criminal case judges make an error in law, the case is appealed. If the judge made an error, the case is remanded back to that court. The defendant may get a new trial as a result. When this appellate ruling is published, it becomes the current law to which future cases should refer.

In family courts, cases are seldom appealed. Unlike criminal courts, participants in family court are not represented by an attorney if they can’t afford to hire one. Appealing a case usually costs upward of $50,000. And, it appears that the appellate courts have not been excited about taking on family court cases, even if someone could afford it. Consequently, family law judges have been allowed to make their own law, regardless of the written laws. Without appellate ruling to declare the law, the family courts have become way out of order.

Well, the times they are a changing. Spearheaded by students and faculty at Berkeley School of Law, we now have the Family Law Appellate Project. They are a non-profit organization who are taking family law cases pro bono. They pick cases that will have a wider application than just the individual case, in order to get case law that will require family law judges to follow the law. They have been very successful. (If you want to learn more about their specific cases, go to their website at

In California we have Family Code Section 3044 that deals with issues of child custody in domestic violence cases. Routinely, judges have not followed this law, frequently giving custody to parents who have committed domestic violence. We now have an appellate case that will be the standard by which judges impose FC3044. If they do not follow the law, their cases will be overturned by the appellate courts. And judges do not like to have their cases overturned.

We might finally have some power behind the law that we passed to protect children from domestic violence. One big step. Many more to go, but we are on the right path.

Sexual Assault Affirmative Consent

California just passed the sexual assault affirmative consent legislation. This means that an actual verbal consent or agreement is required for sexual behavior. Given that 1 in 5 women are sexually assaulted during their four years in college, we need a much stronger response. There have to be clear guidelines for colleges to deal with sexual assault on campus. College should not be the most unsafe place for our daughters.

I have frequently been called to provide expert testimony in rape cases where the jury determined that she did not say no, fight back, or seek help so….they acquitted the man who had sex with her. We know there are many reasons why women do not scream, fight back, or try to get away. Sometimes, she is incapacitated by drugs or alcohol (often being slipped drugs without her knowledge). Other times, she is confused or overcome. Over half of the time, she experiences “tonic immobility,” which is a neurological response in the brain to trauma. The woman “freezes” as her brain floods her with stress hormones. She is unable to respond.

Is this a “perfect” solution to the problem of sexual assault on campus (or anywhere else, for that matter)? No. But it’s a damned good starting in holding perpetrators accountable for their actions. Colleges and universities in California will be expected to hold these perpetrators accountable and actually disciple them. They have guidelines to support the victim/survivor. The men who have received little or no punishment for committing sexual assault, will now be dealt with appropriately. It will not be perfect but we are gradually changing the rape culture environment on campuses.

Wendy Murphy, law professor and sexual assault advocate, does not like the California law. She is a proponent of using Title IX standards which protect civil rights and have a lower threshold of accountability. While I can agree with what Wendy is saying, I also think this is a good start and can shift the legal process for charging and convicting sexual predators. I think we can successfully address this epidemic from both angles: Title IX and state laws that are clear and that will instruct jurors in more appropriate ways to evaluate sexual assault cases.

A young woman should not be at greater risk of sexual assault on campus than she would be anywhere else in her life.

Yes means yes. Anything less than consent is sexual assault.

More About Why She Stays

The Ray Rice story rolls on. As you may have seen, some of that is about his wife, Janay, and why she has stayed with him. The talking heads on tv are very good at speaking for her, as if they know her. I have heard several people say, “she is doing this because of_———” fill in the blank with money, denial, fear, etc. Those people don’t know her and don’t know why she married him after the elevator beating, or why she stays with him now. They are just speculating, but at her expense.

There are many reasons why women stay with their abusers. I have written before about the fear and love that both impact decisions.

But, there is far more to the process than what meets the eye. There is biology that plays a significant role.

When a person is traumatized, the freeze, flight, and fight mechanism becomes activated. When that happens, the thinking and reasoning parts of the brain shut down. During that time, information is not stored or organized in the memory the way non-traumatic information is. Much of what happens is randomly stored, so the person has no narrative memory for what happened.

The part of our brain that is responsible for creating a narrative out of our experiences (the left prefrontal cortex) tries to fill in memory gaps. If you tell yourself a narrative, you begin to believe it. If you blame yourself or feel like it’s your fault that you were abused, that becomes your narrative.

If it was your fault, why would you leave him? Why would you want him prosecuted? You do not have the narrative that he is responsible and he should be punished. Those of us who watch that video of the assault In the elevator, develop our own narrative. But, we are not in fight or flight mode or traumatized. We are operating from a rational, reasoning part of our brain. I see that video and think he should be arrested and charged with a serious felony. Bur, my brain is not in trauma mode when I am putting the information together.

The story the victim/survivor tells herself, may also be supplemented with what the abuser tells her. He may be the person helping her fill in the memory blanks. He is not operating in trauma/survival mode.

Once she puts a narrative to her experience, it may be the narrative of loving her partner, being her fault, she contributed to the problems, or other messages that do not make him responsible or accountable for the violence. If that is her narrative, why would she leave?

So, let’s be very careful about victim blaming in this case and others. The fact is that biology comes into play and that process highjacks memory and rational thought. The narrative she is working with is not your narrative. It is created through the process of trauma. Janay Rice is staying with her husband. That is how she put the narrative together. Give her your support and understanding.

And, for just a moment, think about how you would feel is the most horrible moment of your life was filmed and shown hundreds of times on national television.


Ray Rice narratives

There is nothing quite like having a football player busted for beating his girlfriend (wife) unconscious to get the talk going about domestic violence. And, to hear how much utter stupidity still exists out there. A 49ers radio commentator blamed Janay Rice because she married him after this occurred.

Did you notice that she married him the day after the charges were filed against him? Those of us who work in this field, see things like this all the time. They just don’t play out in the national news.

So, how many times have you seen the clip of Ray punching out Janay? If you watch CNN or ESPN, it has played over and over. For most people, this is shocking behavior. And, it should be. A man punching a woman so she loses consciousness, and then dragging her to their room, should be shocking.

In the beginning, there was a lot of talk about Janay. Some subtle and some overt blaming of her. I heard one sports guy say he saw her spit at him in the elevator. Another said she pushed him into the corner so he had to defend himself. Good grief people, there is NO excuse for his behavior. None.

My brother and I has a few email exchanges about this. He’s a smart guy and has two daughters (as well as a son). One of his comments to me was that he thought the punishment was too harsh, because she had no permanent injuries. With all the talk about football players getting concussions, we just dumb down about battered women who get knocked unconscious? She didn’t have a helmet to protect her. She was knocked out cold. Do we know she won’t experience problems from closed head trauma? And, what about the psychological damage? Does anyone believe she doesn’t have emotional damage from being abused? No permanent injuries? Wrong. She is permanently damaged by this incident.

Of course, they are both saying nothing like this has ever happened before. I don’t believe that for a minute. What I believe is that he never did it where it was being recorded or with witnesses. He slugged her. No hesitation at all. And pushed her around with his feet as she lay there unconscious. I think it would be quite naive to think this is the first time.

So, now what? The next big story will hit the news and this one will fade away. Janay and Ray will go on, for a while anyway. She may stay with him and she may not. Either way, she deserves our caring and support. When/if she decides to leave, she will need understanding and empathy. Don’t ask, why does she stay? Ask how you can help. How can you educate people about domestic violence? How can you be a support to a battered woman? How can you stand by her even when she refuses to stand up for herself?

Janay Rice will fade from the headlines. But I hope the importance of this situation stays with you. When you see abuse, offer help. There is a new website just opening to help people find a battered women’s shelter anywhere in the country. There is a new app for smart phones that connects a battered woman with her designated support people if she needs help.

Be that person who cares. Be that person who doesn’t judge what you don’t understand. Stand up for Janay. Stand up for battered women.

NFL & domestic violence

Well, we already have our first test of the new NFL policy on domestic violence. Just read that one of the SF 49ers was arrested last night for domestic violence. Now we are going to see where the rubber meets the road. We are about to see how the NFL applies their new rules, in reality.

After the uproar over the very light response to domestic violence in the past, The NFL announced a new policy: first offense, suspended without pay for 6 weeks; second offense banned for life. But, there was also included in their statement that they would let law enforcement and the courts take action. That leaves room for great ambiguity since we know that most arrests do not result in a legal finding. Cases are dismissed for a variety of reasons: the victim no longer cooperates with prosecuting the case (in up to 75% of cases), or the prosecution decides not to go forward.

Victims become uncooperative with the prosecution of cases for myriad reasons: she loves him and doesn’t want him to get in trouble; he may have threatened her of worse consequences if she proceeds; she may fear loss of income; she may fear loss of her children in family court; as time has passed since the arrest, she may have minimized or be in denial about the seriousness of the abuse.

I am pleased to see the NFL taking domestic violence seriously. And, I have concerns about what standard they will use to determine if a player should experience the consequences. If they only use the standard of whether a case is prosecuted, they will miss the boat. Certainly, there has to be some standard so a player is not falsely accused. But, contrary to popular opinion, only about 2% of domestic violence claims are determined to be false reports, the same percentage as any other type of crime. Making false claims is just not prevalent. Yet, I expect to see that issue being asserted as the seriousness of the consequences becomes a reality. We will likely very quickly see victim recantation of claims as cases come through the system. You can expect to read that a victim of domestic violence has come forward and said she exaggerated the claim or made it up. This is a very common response of victims. It does NOT mean it didn’t happen. In CA, a case can be prosecuted even if the victim recanted. They can use police reports, witness statements, pictures of injuries, or 911 calls as evidence against the abuser.

Domestic violence cases are most always complicated. But, the application of common sense goes a long way. The video of the player dragging his girlfriend (now wife) out of the elevator speaks for itself. The fact that in spite of that incident, she married him, also speaks to the complications of domestic violence cases.

So, hooray for the NFL stepping up about domestic violence. And I hope their implementation of the consequences uses some reality-based guidelines so that the consequences will actually be imposed.

Sorry versus Change

It is quite common for abusers to apologize after being abusive. Battered women hear, “I’m sorry” over and over, especially when the abuser thinks she is moving away physically or emotionally. Sometimes, he may believe he is sorry. Other times he says it because he thinks it is what she wants to hear. It is part of the manipulation of coercive control.

Apologies without action are hollow. Without action there is no real remorse. Without action, saying “I’m sorry” means nothing at all. It is mere words. There is no power in an apology unless it is the precursor to change.

Abusers manipulate to maintain power and control. The ultimate loss of control is for the abused person to escape the control of the abuser. When there is abuse, the abuser walks a fine line of maintaining control without losing the abused partner. The abuser has to make her believe he is sorry after escalations in abuse in order to gain greater control. Once that control is well established, the apologies often stop. He doesn’t need to pretend to be sorry anymore once he has established solid control.

Change is about action. If a person is making changes, they take actions in the direction of that change. If they are not doing the behaviors, there is no change. Abusers promise to go to counseling, talk to the pastor, go to AA meetings, go to anger management, get a job, or whatever is related to the issues in the relationship. Once she agrees to not leave or to return, he doesn’t do any of the things promised during the apology. He may attend a few counseling sessions, but then finds a reason not to return. He may go to some AA meetings, but he doesn’t do all the meetings expected, doesn’t get a sponsor, and stops going. The same is true of going to anger management or other promised changes. They were only that: part of the cycle of empty promises without behavioral commitment to change.

You know someone is committed to change once they are actually doing it. And I’m not talking about a few meetings or counseling sessions, but an ongoing change in behavior. You haven’t quit smoking until you have stopped smoking for a period of time. You haven’t quit smoking because you stop for a day or two. Behavioral change takes time and commitment.

Show me the behavior. Once you do that, then I might accept that you have made changes that are real.

Don’t tell me you’re sorry. Show me your behavior.