Why Hope Solo's Domestic Violence Case Matters To Survivors

Hope Solo
Self, Family

What seems like a small incident marks a major shift in understanding.

I recently learned about soccer star Hope Solo and the controversy surrounding her domestic violence charges. The Olympian and Women's Soccer notable hero allegedly punched her 17-year-old nephew at a family party and then, when the boy's mother (Solo's half sister) stepped in, Solo struck her as well.  The incident made a bit of media noise when it occurred back in June, but seemed to drop off the social radar. Until this week, when it was announced that Hope Solo will go to trial on November 4th to answer to the charges brought against her. Solo adamantly proclaims her innocence and, so far, both the USOC and her sponsors have stood by her until more information is released.

I'm not sure what truth will be revealed during the Hope Solo trial, but I am certain that if it weren't for the recent Ray Rice domestic violence situation, this "little incident" of Solo's would never have risen to the surface at all, let alone made major national headlines.  But, I believe when the Ray Rice footage that was released (and by "released" I mean played over and over again in the media for weeks) of him knocking his fiancé out cold in that elevator, the conversation about domestic violence shifted forever. And I think this is a good thing. 

You can't unsee it, you know? It's like the time you pulled out the fridge because something rolled under it and you noticed the 3 inches of sticky disgustingness under there. You couldn't just put the fridge back — because then you would always know what nastiness was under there. Nope, you had to clean it up. I feel like this is what is finally starting to happen with the topic of domestic violence in this country. The Ray Rice video forced us to look at the mess directly in the eye and now we know we can't look away, we have do something about it.

We are talking about domestic violence on a daily basis now, finally! As a survivor, I can tell you, this is a huge relief. It is really hard to break the silence. I spent years hiding and wishing I could tell someone. There were no stories in the media, no athletes or celebrities in the news being held accountable to make neighbors take notice of what might be happening next door. No safe space to raise my voice and tell my story. But, that is finally changing now. 

Now we are looking everywhere, closely. Why are we interested in Hope Solo? Because now we have a heightened awareness about domestic violence. People are upset that she's been allowed to continue to play soccer, where Rice was dismissed from the NFL (of course, his video irrefutably proved his guilt, as where with Solo we await her day in court). Also, I think people are interested because she's a woman, and you don't often hear stories of women in the role of the abuser. And the incident involved a level of relative-on-relative violence almost never talked about publicly but is still a problem. All of the angles of the current national conversation are important and interesting discussions. But, what I, personally, find most interesting is the fact that the media reported that she is facing "domestic violence charges."

At first, I thought the media was simply capitalizing on the buzzword "domestic violence." Hey, so much better to call it that, then an "altercation" or "a family squabble." (And no, Hope, it wasn't just "a highly unfortunate incident" as you posted on Facebook.) Upon closer inspection though, I found out that it wasn't the media using this term, it was actually the State of Washington and that her official charge is "fourth degree domestic violence." 

According to them, domestic violence is "an assault that was committed against a person with whom the defendant has a certain type of relationship, such as being family members, romantically involved or married, or even roommates."  Wow, that seems different. Family members? Roommates? When have you ever heard anyone use the term "domestic violence" to describe fights among step-family members or roommates? "Assault and battery," maybe. "Public disturbance," sometimes. But wow, when I heard them (and the media) name this kind of violence for what it is, I knew the tide on this topic is truly turning. And, I, for one, feel encouraged by that. 

But, I still wanted to dig deeper and see how other states and organizations define domestic violence. The overwhelming majority of them only point to violence occurring in marriages, or between estranged couples and intimate partners. Sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles and cousins and roommates were not mentioned. Washington State is on to something. It doesn't matter who your abuser is. No one should be afraid of loved ones, in her own home, or in their own family, EVER. 

I vividly remember my own fear and the desperate feeling I had, wishing that for once, just ONCE, I could come home and not worry about what would happen to me. I fantasized about quiet and peace and sanctuary and rest. All those things about home people yearn for ...home is where the heart is, home sweet home, love begins at home ... ugh, that was not my reality. All of those things feels like b.s. when you live with an abuser.

So, the conversations about Ray Rice, Hope Solo and others are important. We need to continue to expand this conversation and the definition of domestic violence. Now that the fridge is pulled away from the wall, we have to examine the gunk none of us wants to live with and clean it up. Domestic violence isn't only about couples hurting one another. It's about family and friends and roommates and people. It's about people hurting one another in a domestic setting. I will reiterate: We all have the right to feel safe at home. If you don't, you are suffering from domestic violence.

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, only 55 percent of domestic violence incidents are reported to the police. Why? Because up until now it was not okay to talk about it. We need to take this moment in time, when everyone is talking about it, to make it not only okay, but encouraged for people to speak up and talk about it. In my research, I did notice one tiny little sentence by the Unified Court System of New York that spoke to me, regarding violence in the home. "It is not a private matter."

Thank you. No, it isn't. So, let's please keep talking about it.

I started SAS for Women, an education and support center for women. If you are living in a home where you don't feel safe, please visit our website for more information or email me, I'll help you make a change.

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