Fact-checking claims about domestic violence, Ray Rice

Janay Rice, left, looks on as her husband, former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, speaks to the media during a May 23, 2014, news conference. (AP)
Janay Rice, left, looks on as her husband, former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, speaks to the media during a May 23, 2014, news conference. (AP)

The release of a video showing NFL running back Ray Rice striking his now-wife in an Atlantic City, N.J., casino elevator revived conversations about domestic violence on politics and sports shows alike.

This week, PunditFact and PolitiFact checked three claims about the prevalence of domestic violence in America and a claim about NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s initial two-game suspension of Rice.

Three’s a crowd

On CNN’s State of the Union, Washington Post sports columnist Mike Wise argued that Goodell should lose his job for his handling of Rice’s case.

"The thing that bothered me most is Roger Goodell at one point tried to play essentially a marriage counselor with the victim and the perpetrator, Janay and Ray Rice," Wise said. "He put the victim and the perpetrator together. Every domestic violence agency, every law enforcement agency, that’s a no-no."

Wise is right that Goodell met with the couple together. In the June 16 meeting, Janay Rice asked Goodell to be lenient to Ray Rice, an anonymous league source told Sports Illustrated’s Peter King, saying major discipline could ruin the running back’s career.

When King’s story broke, news and sports sites alike -- including the popular sports blog Deadspin -- slammed Goodell for not talking to the couple separately. And Ruth M. Glenn, interim executive director of the National coalition Against Domestic Violence, told us that the domestic violence prevention community has pushed for years for law enforcement agencies to adopt policies that call for interviewing victims and suspects separately.

We found plenty of examples of law enforcement agencies doing just that, and detectives also make it a practice in general to question witnesses separately. But there are instances during the legal process where couples in domestic violence cases are interviewed together so officials can judge how they act with one another.

Experts also cautioned us from treating Goodell’s meeting like a law enforcement investigation: Rice had already been indicted for assault and accepted into a pretrial intervention program. With those caveats, we rated Wise’s claim Mostly True.

Family matters

In the same State of the Union segment, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., argued that because the NFL puts "out their players as role models," they have "to set a different culture" around domestic violence.

"Kids that have seen it (domestic violence) happen," Klobuchar said, "are twice as likely to commit it themselves."

That stat comes from a 1990 book using data from the National Family Violence Surveys of 1975 and 1985, which experts told us are the most recent definitive, comprehensive studies on the occurrence of domestic violence.

More recent studies -- including a 2000 meta-analysis of 39 different studies on this issue -- found a correlation between witnessing and perpetrating domestic violence. But different studies ranged from showing a causal relationship between witnessing and perpetrating to showing no relationship at all.

Domestic violence is particularly hard to measure, Glenn told us, given a lack of "good data" on who’s charged and convicted of domestic violence, confidentiality issues, and a variety of other methodological problems.

There’s enough out there to suggest that kids who witness domestic violence are more likely to perpetrate it, but saying something as precise as "twice as likely" is difficult. So we rated Klobuchar’s claim Mostly True.

Domestic murder

On the Sept. 11 pregame broadcast of Thursday Night Football, CBS Sports announcer James Brown focused on domestic violence instead of football. Brown delivered a 90-second monologue in which he urged men to learn "what healthy, respectful manhood is all about." Then he pulled out a stirring statistic.

"Consider this: According to domestic violence experts, more than three women per day lose their lives at the hands of their partners," Brown said. "that means that since the night Feb. 15 in Atlantic City (the night Ray Rice hit now-wife Janay Rice on the elevator) more than 600 women have died."

Brown’s figure is used across several outreach group websites, and experts say the claim is accurate.

Based on federal figures from the FBI’s annual Uniform Crime Report, University of Colorado Denver professor Callie Rennison calculated that 3.3 women died at the hands of their intimate partners per day in 2010. That’s the number of intimate partner homicides with female victims (1,192) divided by the number of days in the year.

That’s down from a recent high of 4.2 deaths per day in 1993.

Rennison didn’t run the 2011 and 2012 numbers, but the trend holds. James Fox, a Northeastern University criminology professor, kept his own count of intimate partner homicides, factoring in unsolved homicide cases believed to have involved intimate partners. Using Fox’s numbers, which are slightly higher than the federal figures, the daily average of female deaths was 3.84 in 2010, 3.61 in 2011, and 3.68 in 2012.

Experts told us that Brown could have been more precise by saying "partners and former partners" instead of just "partners," but that doesn’t obscure his point. We rated his claim True.