The New Jersey court system set a dangerous example in a very public domestic violence case yesterday when they dropped charges against Ray Rice, former NFL Baltimore Ravens running back.

The dismissal was based on Rice’s completion of a pretrial intervention program, consisting of only $125 in fines and anger management counseling. The program is intended for non-violent cases, which should raise an eyebrow given that the charge was third-degree aggravated assault and there is substantial video evidence of Rice dragging his then fiancé out of an elevator after knocking her unconscious. The Associated Press obtained records confirming that less than one percent (0.47%) of all domestic violence assault cases that went in front of a judge from 2010 to 2013 in New Jersey’s Superior Court were admitted to this pretrial intervention program.

It is critical that domestic abuse is recognized as a violent and intolerable crime, both within the community and inside the courtroom. Rice’s attorney described the elevator incident as “little more than a misunderstanding,” which seems to be echoed by the decision to drop the charges against Rice. The case has drawn national interest and attention – one version of the video capturing the assault, posted by TMZSports on YouTube, has over 11 million views. The message being sent to these viewers, and more importantly, to victims of domestic violence, is that crimes of domestic violence are not taken as seriously as other crimes – that there are fewer consequences and less accountability if you harm your spouse/intimate partner than if you attack a stranger.

The lack of accountability for perpetrators of domestic abuse, like we’ve seen with Rice, could lead to victims feeling unsafe and unsupported, potentially inhibiting them from seeking help. In Arizona, someone dies every three days in a domestic violence related incident. Emerge! wants those suffering from abusive relationships to know that we are here to support them on their journey to a safer life – through navigating the legal system, safety planning, emergency shelter, housing assistance, children’s services and emotional support. We hope the Tucson/Pima County community will join Emerge! in sending a loud message to victims of abuse that they will be supported as they come forward for help and justice.

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