I saw a video that went viral last week of minor league baseball player Danry Vasquez battering his girlfriend in a stairwell of a baseball stadium. The video showed him striking her at least a half-dozen times as they made their way down the stairs. It was painful to watch. While the video had no sound and we have no indication of what triggered the event, one thing is clear: his actions were out of line and she did not deserve to be hit.
I also read the comments left on the Landcaster Barnstormer’s Facebook page beneath the announcement of his dismissal from the team. As a person who committed that same offense, the comments were equally painful to read.
The video was painful to watch. Public comments about it were equally painful to read.
The media storm around this incident reminds me that there are really two courts that domestic violence offenders face. One is the court of the criminal justice system, enforcing domestic violence laws. The other is the court of public opinion.
Domestic violence laws and punishment
First, some facts. The incident occurred in 2016, almost 2 years ago. His girlfriend did not want to press charges. Instead, she wanted him to get counseling and didn’t want this “isolated incident” (her words) to impact his career. Despite this, Mr. Vasquez was charged and pled guilty to assault-family violence. Because there was no serious bodily injury and no choking, his charge was considered a misdemeanor—a typical offense level under most states’ domestic violence laws.
Mr. Vasquez had no prior criminal record and this was his first domestic violence charge. He was given a deferred sentence with one year of probation and ordered to attend a mandatory batterers intervention program (BIP). He completed the BIP program and has not, as far as we know, repeated the offense. Since he met all of his obligations, the charges were dismissed, which is how a deferred sentence works. This, too, is a typical punishment prescribed for a first-time offender with misdemeanor charges.
The court of public opinion
Dealing with legal issues of the offense is neither fun nor easy, although it is rather predictable and arguably fair. The court of public opinion, however, can be far worse because truth doesn’t matter, there is no due process, and the punishment seems to never end.
I know people tend to be the most vicious version of themselves on social media, especially when few, if any, of the readers are going to know them personally. Even with that considered, it’s hard not to feel the immense disdain people have for anyone who has ever committed this offense.
It’s hard not to feel the immense disdain people have for anyone who has ever committed an act of domestic violence.
The comments poured in by the hundreds. The attacks were highly degrading, calling him an “animal,” “coward,” “scumbag,” “crazy, violent asshole,“ “despicable excuse of a man,” “piece of crap,” “twisted caveman,” and a “disgusting evil monster.”
Several were outraged by the notion that he was not punished at all (clearly not true), or they thought that he should be punished much more harshly. Many posting comments felt no hesitation in recommending the most severe punishment possible, including rape and execution.
The Barnstormers dismissal and the public relations nightmare associated with having him on a team will make it unlikely that Mr. Vasquez will play professional baseball again. Those that commented on his career unanimously wanted him permanently banned from baseball, but several expanded that wish to future employment at any job.
Quite a few were quick to assume other very negative attributes: “I bet he said to her a million things to get her not testify,” “he’s probably been beating her for years,” “if she does not leave him, he will kill her, for sure,” “he will blame her for his career ending,” “they are all masters at manipulation,” “I don’t believe this SOB is capable of loving anything,” and “animals like this do not change” is a sampling of the comments.
On the milder side, some praised the Barnstormers for releasing him. Some focused on his non-citizen visa status. A few expressed concern about the girl. However, there were only two of the 360 comments that were even mildly hopeful: “I really hope he comes out of this a better person,” and “My only hope is this very young man will seek out help to control his demons that would let him prey on those who love and care about him.”
Like Ray Rice, this case was extremely public because the offender was a professional athlete. Regardless of our level of fame, however, we all face the scorn of our family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers.
As I read through the comments on Facebook, I felt flooded with shame knowing my actions were not too dissimilar from Mr. Vasquez’s. If people were saying those things about him, certainly they’d say the same about me. Their lack of hope for change and their permanent condemnation means that my 13 years of non-violence is no protection.
If you’re a person who caused harm in a relationship, I know reading the comments like those posted with this story is gut-wrenching. Domestic violence in particular seems to evoke some of the most passionate calls for vengeance. It’s maybe second only to sexually abusing a child. Murder is somewhere further down the line. Words can hurt.
Missing the cause of domestic violence
It would be for someone easy to say, “Good, maybe those words will motivate you to change.” The flaw in this logic is that it assumes we acted out in a violent way because we didn’t know any better, and we finally had a chorus of people point it out. Or that we were sneakily getting away with our power trip until we were exposed and shamed by society. That’s a popular one.
If we start, however, with the true reason—that we are acting out to protect our own sensitivities, like the fear that we are not good enough, or that we are not lovable—then pouring on shame doesn’t seem like a very good cure, does it?
Pouring on shame doesn’t seem like a very good cure.
I wish the public understood of the true cause of domestic violence. I wish people responded to it in a less shaming and more helpful way. Maybe someday the world will be more enlightened, but in the mean time, this is the reality we face. It is not a hopeless reality, however. Allow me to share some perspective.
Avoiding shame while you’re stopping domestic violence
First, fair criticism is important for us to listen to—that’s how we avoid blind spots that will keep us stuck in behavior that hurts others and ourselves. It’s likely, however, that you’ll read or hear opinions of what should to be done to you (or others who have done harm) that goes far beyond fair criticism. When you encounter it, stop reading, stop listening, and walk away. Vicious character attacks serve no worthwhile purpose.
Second, remember that the worst of what they’re saying is not true. You are not a POS. You do not deserve to be maimed or locked up with the key thrown away. There are people right now who see you for who you are: yes flawed, but also an incredibly complex and very lovable person at your core.
You are not defined by the worst thing that you’ve done. Change is possible.
Third, your future is not hopelessly spoiled by your past. You are not defined by the worst thing that you’ve done. Thank God none of us are! Change is possible. Your hurtful actions are likely flowing out of your own hurt. That hurt can be healed, if you are intentional about it. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
God, the creator of the universe, is crazy about you and wants good things for your life. He has far better plans for you than being a person who hurts others. He wants to put your life back together and won’t give up on you. He wants to bless you more than you can imagine. He just asks for your trust and for you to have a relationship with him. Unlike public opinion, he is full of grace and mercy if we ask.