I’m not a football fan.  But, because I’m not a supporter of domestic violence, I was glad to hear that both Seahawks coach Pete Carroll and manager John Schneider avowed they would never allow an abuser to play for them.

Yet here we are today, being asked by the Seahawks’ new draft pick, Frank Clark, to have faith in him.

The selection of Clark as a Seahawks draft choice is dogged by charges that he struck his girlfriend, Diamond Hurt.  They got into a fight in a hotel, someone called the police, the officer determined there had been some physical violence and was obliged to arrest Clark.  Larry Stone’s article in The Seattle Times lays out more of the evidence and issues, and you should take a look at that.

One quote from Stone’s article bears special notice.  He cites John Schneider as saying, “I would say there are always two sides to a story. You have to go through the whole thing. You can’t just go with one police report. You have to talk to everybody involved. Everybody.”  Stone also notes that they did not talk to Diamond Hurt.  So much for everyone?

[Update Tuesday May 5: A subsequent article in today’s Seattle Times revealed that those Seahawk representatives charged with investigating this incident in fact did not talk to any witnesses, of which there were several.  Except for Frank Clark.]

That is not surprising, as another article noted that Hurt didn’t want to press charges.  She may have not wanted to harm Clark’s nascent football career, especially in light of the Ray Rice publicity.  A very common response in abusive relationships.

Again, I don’t know much about football.  But I do know something about abusive relationships and why they exist.  Abusers too often continue to abuse because they can.  It is a learned behavior, it gets them what they want, and there are often few if any meaningful consequences for them.  That’s because often people around them make choices that help minimize and mask the “not-so-bad” behavior.”

Renowned psychologist Paul Ekman has written, in his book Telling Lies, that intelligent people can sometimes fail to see blatant untruths because they have a vested interest in believing the lie, in “collusively helping to maintain the lie, to avoid the terrible consequences of uncovering the lie.”

It can be easy to minimize abuse when the abuser is someone you like, or you think can perform well for your organization.  It can be easy to minimize a police report when that certain someone has skills you want to exploit.  Domestic violence is perpetuated not only by those doing the hitting, but by those with a vested interest in other aspects of the abusers’ lives.  By those well-meaning ancillary enablers who want to give some a second (or third?  fourth?  fifth?) chance, but up teaching that abusers can get away with a LOT of bad behavior before suffering serious consequences.

We will probably never know for sure what happened that evening.  In general, however, by the time a relationship gets to physical violence, there’s been a lot of power and control and manipulation happening.  And physical violence in a relationship, once it begins, happens again, and again.  As a self-defense teacher, my suggestion to students is to recognize the relationship for what it is, and plan how to keep themselves safer.

Going forward could be challenging.  The first step I’d like to see is Carroll, Schneider, and the Seahawks as an organization express accountability for their decision to draft a player who, by witness accounts, did hit his then-girlfriend.  I’d like to see them own up to not really interviewing “everybody.”   Second, I’d like to see them discuss how to hold Clark accountable going forward.  Finally, I’d like to see Clark take seriously being accountable for his behavior, which would involve being publicly honest about that evening’s events.  Because, whether or not I follow football, my community is affected by prominent public figures publicly deny abusive behavior.

This book was recommended by a student.  She had left her abusive husband about a year earlier, and since then has been reading everything she could get her hands on about domestic violence.  Not only does she strongly recommend this book, she’s bought multiple copies and given them to friends who she thinks need to read it.

Really, everybody should read this book. Consider this: over 25% of all women have been, are, or will be involved with an abusive partner sometime in their lives.  Even if that person is not you, it was, is, or will be someone you know.  I often ask students if they’ve know anyone who’s experienced abuse. Most of the time most students raise their hands. Sometimes only half the class raises their hands.  Sometimes everyone raises their hands. Even in classes for teen girls, most of them already have a friend who’s experienced dating violence.

Pamela Jayne clearly depicts what abuse is, and how it is distinguished from other normal human behaviors that may be immature, petty, selfish, stubborn, or disagreeable. She points out the early warning signs, or “red flags,” of abuse. She goes into great detail, with lots of real examples, of the various ploys and manipulations used by abusive men to justify, deny, or blame someone else for what they’ve done. And she is clear that in order for an abuser to change, they need to take full responsibility for their behavior and really want to change.

Jayne divides the world of abusive men into three camps: the potentially good, the bad, and the hopeless. While they do have a lot in common, there are several important differences that predict whether or not any given abuser may change his abusive ways. This is an important part of the book, since so many women stay with their abuser because they believe they can change him, or if only they were better girlfriends or wives he wouldn’t be abusive, or even that it’s their obligation to stay and not abandon him. Jayne is clear that change is very hard, the abuser has to be willing to put in a lot of work and face some very unpleasant facets of his approach to life, and that not many will change. All the willpower and good intentions and love of the wife or girlfriend won’t make someone else change.

The potentially good man (who is less likely to use physical violence and usually does not have an alcohol/drug problem) may change if he realizes the emotional costs of his behavior and its impact on people he cares about, and takes responsibility for his own actions. However, those men who seem to constantly swim in chaos, who have trouble holding a job, who have substance abuse issues, and who believe they are life’s victims are unlikely to change.  And those who totally lack empathy, who use violence freely, chronically lie whenever it’s in his interest, and is routinely manipulative, are deemed hopeless. (Other authors, such as Martha Stout, have labeled those who fit this “hopeless” category as sociopaths.)

Ditch That Jerk is well written and easily comprehended. It is a fairly short book, and can be read thoroughly in a weekend (or several weeknights). It’s very suitable for young women, including those in their late teens, who may be less certain what abuse is or what their rights in a relationship are. I highly recommend this book, whether you believe you need it or not.

CBS, what WERE you thinking?

You had a real opportunity, and you blew it. Big time.

Perhaps you didn’t realize that October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. You had an opportunity during the October 16, 2009 episode of The Ghost Whisperer to say something intelligent about dating, relationships, and abuse. But you blew it.

Lots of things about The Ghost Whisperer I don’t understand. Like whether Melinda’s husband is dead or alive, or both. Like how she suddenly has a five-year-old son and I never ever realized she was pregnant. Or like how merely sad ghosts can’t pick up material objects, while the violent ones throw things.

But I do understand the warning signs, or “red flags,” of potential abuse.

Melinda’s sidekick Delia decides to stop dating Roger for screaming at the maitre’d in a restaurant. OK, the maitre’d insisted on opening a “special” bottle of wine for them even after they declined, and then spilled it all over Delia. Roger jumped to his feet, and let loose a verbal barrage (fortunately appropriate in language for prime time TV). As her mother told her, don’t date a man who’s mean to the waiter, and Delia saw a mean side she that just didn’t appeal to her. So she does not return his phone calls.

Then strange things begin to happen. On a show about talking to ghosts, that’s to be expected. But these strange goings-on were from a live person. Rose petals and roses on Delia’s car. A shower of violet flowers. A mime sent to pantomime love. Delia suspects Roger is trying to woo her back.

Melissa encourages her to reconsider: “Are you sure you don’t want to give Roger a second chance? But it proves he has a romantic side, and besides you told me that that maitre’d was obnoxious and had spilled things on you before! So, maybe, Roger was just, I don’t know, protecting you.”

Melinda had this GREAT opportunity to affirm Delia’s intuition. She could have said something like, “Delia, he’s still really interested in you and wants a second chance. If you do go out with him again, just look out for controlling behavior, it could foreshadow an abusive relationship.” I’m sure you have at least a couple of scriptwriters clever enough to turn some of the behaviors of potential abuse into scintillating TV dialog. (If you want to know what they are, download this Signs of Batterers list and Campus DV Safety flyer. Or read Domestic Violence for Beginners, by Alisa Del Tufo.)

But no, she made excuses for a man she did not know, evoking romance.

Sure romance is sexier than domestic violence. But when all rates of violence in this country are at 40 year lows EXCEPT for domestic violence, when domestic violence is the #1 lifetime hazard facing women today, and when in all of my self-defense classes for teen girls most already know of friends who’ve been in abusive relationships, popular TV shows have just got to do a better job of making at least a discussion of abuse more mainstream. Abuse is not romantic, to either the living or the dead.

[To watch this episode, paste this URL in your browser: http://www.cbs.com/primetime/ghost_whisperer/video/?pid=fVzaCoSHqUzAFBWSWl5NfT_DYYVFwRmt]