Published September 4, 2014
The NFL’s new “test case” for pro football players accused of domestic violence could lead to increased scrutiny and more education about the issue outside of professional sports, according to the director of the Domestic Violence and Women’s Rights Clinic at the UB Law School.
But whether national attention of a high-profile case such as the domestic violence charges brought against San Francisco 49er Ray McDonald has a broader impact in the general population remains to be seen, says Christopher Moellering, a clinical teaching fellow who leads the UB domestic violence clinic.
“Generally, domestic violence, at its root, is about power and control,” says Moellering. “Abusers use physical force, as well as threats, sexual violence, intimidation, humiliation, isolation and economic coercion to reinforce their control over their victims. Much of the abuse is less visible than bruises or scars.”
McDonald is the 49ers’ defensive lineman arrested Sunday on felony domestic violence charges, less than three days after NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announced tougher penalties for players accused of domestic violence. Moellering says he hopes the national attention on McDonald’s arrest and the NFL’s response will lead to greater awareness, education and increased willingness for victims to come forward. But that is far from a foregone conclusion, he adds.
Sports commentator Stephen A. Smith’s controversial comments following the suspension of Baltimore Raven Ray Rice “seem to indicate the insensitivity, misinformation and misunderstanding of these issues that exist among the general population,” Moellering says.
“Perhaps the NFL’s new policy will inspire other sports leagues — and professional organizations more generally — to take a tougher line on domestic violence by hitting abusers where it hurts: in their wallets,” Moellering says.
What seems more certain than the fallout — positive or negative — of McDonald’s arrest is the likelihood the NFL will hand down its suspension soon, rather than wait until the case goes to court, according to Moellering.
“Given how much flak NFL Commissioner Goodell and the NFL took after suspending Ray Rice for only two games, and in light of how recently the league released its new policy — minimum suspension of six games, plus enhancements for incidents involving pregnant women — I would expect a suspension of at least eight games,” Moellering says.
“Given the pending start to the NFL regular season this week, I think the league will act sooner, rather than wait for the court case to reach disposition.”
The Domestic Violence and Women’s Rights Clinic in the UB Law School provides law students the opportunity to learn about and advocate on behalf of abused and trafficked women in Western New York. The clinic takes on clients from the criminal and family court systems, giving “student attorneys” the chance to represent these women in court, under Moellering’s supervision.
Moellering became a clinical teaching fellow on the UB Law School faculty after five years as a criminal defense attorney, both in the public and private sector. He has represented hundreds of defendants in New York’s Domestic Violence Courts, as well as dozens of victims of sex trafficking in the recently created Human Trafficking Intervention Court parts.