09/10/2014 05:54 pm ET Updated Nov 10, 2014

Domestic Violence in NFL Bigger than Ray Rice

Millions of women, including myself, across the country are shocked and enraged that it took an elevator surveillance video and the resulting media response to draw attention to domestic violence. This should never happen, but when it does we should never accept it. As a country, it's time to demand zero tolerance for domestic violence and violence against women.

The NFL and the Baltimore Ravens should have taken immediate steps to enact a zero tolerance when Ray Rice admitted he'd committed an act of violence against his now wife Janay and the judicial system should have never allowed him to be treated like a jaywalker, rather than someone who committed a violent assault. Especially, given that "domestic violence accounts for 48 percent of arrests for violent crimes among NFL players" and "the 55.4 percent arrest rate for domestic violence is more than four times worse than the NFL's arrest rate for all offenses," according to Benjamin Morris, senior writer for

The NFL knows it is positioned as a leadership role in this country. Young men and women from communities across America look up to their players and in many ways, emulate them on and off the field. When an organization that is held in such esteem acts in a callous manner toward any act of violence, it in effect condones the conduct.

Beyond, the situation with Ray Rice and his wife, as a nation we face an epidemic of violence against women that has hardly budged over two decades despite enactment of the Violence Against Women Act of 1994, which provided funding and grants to aid prosecutors in the investigation and prosecution of violent crimes against women.

Notwithstanding the Act, one in four women will likely be abused by a partner in her lifetime. A woman in the United States is abused every 15 seconds. Spousal or other intimate partners commit 15 percent of all homicides, 10 percent of rapes and 25 percent of aggravated assaults.

It's clear that to change these startling statistics we need all hands on deck. We need organizations like the NFL to be motivated by real change rather than avoiding media fiascos. It's time for the NFL and other influential organizations that represent, promote and work alongside powerful role models to take a stand not just in the Ray Rice case, but in the cases of other players including Ray McDonald and Greg Hardy, who are still playing while facing domestic violence charges.

It strains credulity for the league to tout its new policy regarding domestic violence while continuing to protect players involved in abuse charges. If the NFL refuses to respect women and commit to a zero tolerance policy against domestic violence, then the U.S. Congress, the National Organization of Women and others' plea for changes that go to the top of the organization should be heeded.

We also need prosecutors and judges around the nation to treat domestic violence with the seriousness it deserves. We couldn't imagine Ray Rice being placed in a diversion program and avoiding jail time if he had assaulted a stranger rather than his girlfriend. The fact that an act of violence is perpetuated against a loved one doesn't make it any less violent or criminal. The judicial system has to send a strong message that violence against women of any nature will be prosecuted to the fullest extent.

Likewise, the community has to stand up and speak out. I am encouraged that Ray and Janay report that they are committed to keeping their family together and becoming advocates against domestic violence. They certainly have a right to make whatever decisions they believe are in their best interest and should be allowed to do so without judgment or condemnation from others.

However, this situation is bigger than the decisions they make and actions they take as a family. It's a teachable moment for us all, an opportunity for our country to grow and finally put into place some unbreakable boundaries.

Thousands of young women are tuning in to this story and are having to make decisions on a daily basis about whether to stay in an abusive relationship. For those women, we can't sugar coat it. We must make the dangers of domestic abuse very clear. We need for them to know that violence of any sorts is unacceptable and causes deep and often irreversible physical and emotional wounds. Our daughters, sisters and girlfriends need to know that domestic violence is called the silent killer because in the United States domestic abuse takes the life of a woman every six hours.

As a nation, we have faced and overcome bigger challenges. We have proven that when our backs are against the wall, we come together, we face adversity and we win. In this context, each of us have a responsibility to speak out against violence, to support a women who has or is being abused, to advocate for stricter punishment against abusers and to stand with thousands of advocates whose mantra is that we can, and must, end the epidemic of violence against women.