09/13/2014 04:21 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

There's Nothing Domestic About Domestic Assault

Having read only the tiniest fraction of the endless pontification about professional football thug Ray Rice's brutalization of his wife and the National Football League's handling of it, I am going to stick my neck out and make a bold pronouncement:

All the commentary thus far has missed the most important lesson we should be taking from this and the similar cases of spouse-on-spouse violence that occur in every nation on earth, every day of the week: There is nothing "domestic" about these assaults, other than the fact that many of them take place within the home shared by the attacker and the victim.

These are not cases of "domestic assault." They are not cases of "domestic violence." What they are is particularly ugly cases of criminal assault, and the sooner we acknowledge that fact, and start treating them as such, the sooner we will begin to take this form of violence seriously.
Before dismissing what I'm saying out of hand, ask yourself this:

If Ray Rice had gotten into an altercation in a hotel elevator with a female hotel guest, had cold cocked her, and then dragged her body across the floor and out of the elevator, would he initially have been suspended for just two games? Would the Baltimore Raven's have ignored his conduct? Of course not, he would have been seen as the vicious thug he apparently is, and would have been treated as such. But because this was labeled "domestic violence," he initially got a pass. "She must have provoked him." "There's obviously more to this than meets the eye." "We don't know what's been going on at home."


None of that is vaguely relevant, and could in no way excuse his conduct. And we should not give this kind of assault a special name and put it in a special category that ultimately belittles it, fails to protect society, and robs victims of justice. By calling it "domestic assault," as we have for so long, we put a white picket fence around it and in some weird way prettify it. Which is utterly inexcusable.

I am not suggesting that we eliminate the special treatment we now offer those who are criminally assaulted by their spouses, because what is done after these events has an enormous impact on the victims, and the victims' children. Of course, counseling should be provided for these women -- and men -- who often have been so victimized they are suffering from a form of Stockholm Syndrome, and identify with the criminal who assaulted them. Of course, they and their children should be offered shelter and protection, because often these criminals will continue to terrorize their victims and will continue to assault them until they kill them.

But change the name of this crime. Do not give its perpetrators special treatment. Do not offer its perpetrators diversion from the normal criminal justice process. Do not offer its perpetrators anger management classes in lieu of jail time. Would Ray Rice have been offered counseling had he punched out a woman, or a man, in the lobby of that same hotel? You know the answer to that one.

I am absolutely convinced that one of the reasons we have made so little headway in reducing what we call "domestic violence" is the fact that we call it "domestic violence," and treat it differently than we treat every other form of violence in this society. Whether we admit it or not, we have long adhered to the belief that, at least up to a certain point, what happens in the home should stay in the home; husband and wife should be left to work out their domestic conflicts in private; it's none of our business.

If that's the case, why is it any of our business when a brother non-fatally stabs his brother in the privacy of his own kitchen during a drunken Saturday night poker game? Isn't that "domestic violence"? Doesn't it impact the family and all its members for the rest of time? Why don't we offer the stabber diversion from the court system? Or anger management classes?

In case I haven't gone far enough with this, I am going to go one step farther -- and it's a giant one:

At the same time we reclassify "domestic assault" as criminal assault, we should eliminate the spousal privilege that prevents the state from forcing one spouse to testify against the other. For too long that privilege has allowed thugs to hide behind their victims. (Do you really think that it's a coincidence that Ray Price married his victim shortly after knocking her out cold?)

So drag Ray Rice in front of a jury of his peers, charged with criminally assaulting the woman he knocked unconscious. Let's stop worrying about who saw what video when, who reported what to whom when, and instead ask how the NFL and its teams will, going forward, deal with players who off the field behave as they are paid millions of dollars for behaving on the field on any given Sunday.