Latest NFL Scandal Reveals The Disturbing Truth About Domestic Violence

Arizona Cardinals running back Jonathan Dwyer (20) CREDIT: AP PHOTO/JIM MONE
Arizona Cardinals running back Jonathan Dwyer (20) CREDIT: AP PHOTO/JIM MONE

The controversy swirling around NFL players continues unabated, as more details emerged on Thursday about Arizona Cardinals running back Jonathan Dwyer’s domestic violence allegations. Dwyer was arrested this week on felony and misdemeanor assault charges for incidents that occurred in July. He allegedly broke his wife’s nose and threw her phone out the window when she tried to call the cops.

If nothing else, the prominent cases involving football players are raising awareness about the scope of the issue in this country. As Americans grow increasingly frustrated with the way National Football League officials handle incidents of violence against women, the country has been engaged in a national conversation about intimate partner violence. Here’s what Americans can take away from the police report about the alleged assault that Dwyer perpetrated against his wife:

It’s not unusual for violence to occur after women reject men’s sexual advances.

According to the court documents, the first incident of violence occurred when Dwyer “attempted to kiss [his wife] and remove her clothing” and she repeatedly told him to stop. He didn’t listen to her, and when she bit his lip to try to stop his advances, he headbutted her in face and fractured her nose. This dynamic is all too common. Women who refuse to engage with men romantically often face dangerous consequences for turning them down. Women have been attacked with acid, stabbed, raped, and beaten for resisting men’s sexual propositions. In May, after a mass shooting in Santa Barbara was perpetrated by a young man who wanted to punish the women who weren’t attracted to him, women shared many of those stories of everyday violence under the hashtag #YesAllWomen.


Women who end up in the hospital with fractures are often victims of abuse.

Obviously, intimate partner violence can have a lot of short-term health consequences; it’s the leading cause of injury to women between the ages of 15 and 44. Dwyer’s wife’s injuries reflect the fact that bone fractures are particularly common. One recent study found that, among the women who seek treatment for fractures, one in six is a victim of domestic violence. Victims also tend to suffer from longer-term health problems, like diabetes, depression, and digestive disease. Doctors are encouraged to screen their patients for signs of potential abuse, and perhaps even start screening male patients for signs that they might be an abuser.

Domestic violence victims don’t always report right away.

Dwyer’s wife didn’t report the abuse until weeks after it occurred, which isn’t necessarily unusual. By the time she went back to talk to police, she had taken her son to another state and said she “felt safe.” Leaving an abuser can be an incredibly dangerous time for a victim — separating from their abuser increases their risk of being killed by 75 percent — so it makes sense that it took some time to feel safe. Plus, Dwyer gave his wife plenty of reasons to avoid the cops — according to the police, he told her he would kill himself if she called the police, and even texted her a picture of a knife, saying that “he did not want to live anymore.” So she initially denied the abuse to the police. Women in abusive relationships are often subject to this type of emotional manipulation and frequently prioritize their partner’s safety over their own.

There can be some positive things about an increase in domestic violence reports.

For football fans, it likely feels somewhat overwhelming that so many domestic abuse cases are coming to light. (Dwyer isn’t the first Cardinals player to be charged with assault; linebacker Daryl Washington pleaded guilty in April for assaulting the mother of his child and breaking her collarbone.) But, somewhat counterintuitively, an increase in reports can actually be a good thing because it means that more victims are comfortable coming forward to talk about a under-reported crime. There’s already been some evidence that the widespread coverage of the Ray Rice incident is helping more women speak out; writers and celebrities are sharing their personal stories with domestic abuse, and the National Domestic Violence Hotline saw an 84 percent increase in phone calls in the two days since the video leaked of Rice punching his then-fiancee.