Hope Solo made sports headlines again over the past two weeks, as the world’s finest goalkeeper played a critical role in the USA’s third Women’s World Cup soccer title. The 33-year-old Solo is a hero to millions of young girls, and perhaps as many young boys. In June 2014, however, Hope Solo was arrested in Seattle on two counts of domestic violence. Police were called after an allegedly intoxicated Solo got into an altercation with her half-sister and 17-year-old nephew.
The case in Kirkland Municipal Court was dismissed by Judge Michael Lambo on procedural grounds, because the alleged victims repeatedly failed to appear in court. Prosecutors, in a rare move that required city administrator approval, filed an appeal with the Superior Court of Washington. Prosecutors are scheduled to file their argument by July 13, with the defense due to respond by August 10. Oral arguments are scheduled for September 11.
So Hope Solo can expect to be in the news again, but this time, she won’t be waving an American flag.
People often ask me, as a domestic violence survivor, for ways to talk to kids about family violence. My answer is: use the media. The Hope Solo case offers a great excuse to talk about an unpleasant reality yet again.
But if you are wondering why you should talk to your kids about family violence in the first place, here are three good reasons.
First, the Centers for Disease Control reports that over 15 million kids experience family violence every year. So, chances are, your kids may already know about family violence.
Second, if a child experiences abuse, chances are he or she will confide in a fellow child rather than an adult, so your kids need to know about family abuse, in order to help if the need arises.
Third, girls 16-24 are three times as likely to be abuse victims vs. women of different ages. By talking to your children now, you warn them about the red flags of abusive love, and you set yourself up as a compassionate, knowledgeable adult to turn to if they, or their friends, become victims in the future.
But back to Hope Solo. Her case gives parents the opportunity to make five important points about family violence that are well worth talking about to kids.
1) Women abuse too. The stereotypical abuse perpetrator is a man. In 85% of cases, abusers are male. But women abuse husbands. Lesbians abuse female partners. Mothers abuse children. So it’s important to clarify for children that if a woman is the perpetrator, it’s still abuse, even if the situation does not fit the stereotype.
2) Are certain athletes prone to abuse more than non-athletes? Is someone who must be competitive and physical on a playing field, or a martial arts mat, or in a boxing ring, more prone to abuse than non-athletes? Should we forgive or excuse athletes who must be violent in their sports? My answer is emphatically no. There is never a good reason to hurt someone who loves you, no matter your profession, your personality, or your background. Stop to think: there are no reports of Hope Solo punching a coach, a teammate, or a stranger. Intimate partner violence is always about dominating and abusing people who love you, the relatives and lovers who trust you and are most vulnerable to you. This is one of the many confusing, complex realities of intimate abuse.
3) What constitutes domestic violence, anyway? There’s a chance that the Hope Solo fight is what she claims: a family argument that unfortunately got physical. Is a fistfight between siblings domestic violence? If a parent spanks a child, is that an incident of family violence? To draw accurate distinctions, we need to understand that domestic abuse is a pattern of isolation, intimidation, and control, not isolated incidents of physical contact. This is why emotional abuse (absent of violence) is just as damaging as use force to manipulate and control someone. So my take here is that one fight between family members does not automatically signal the destructive, insidious cycle of relationship abuse.
4) How can anyone know what really happens behind closed doors? The Hope Solo case is confusing; she denies she abused her relatives and claims she is innocent. Yet apparently, prosecutors in Washington state believe differently. This shows how hard it is to get to the bottom of relationship violence incidents and figure out what really happened. All bystanders, most especially police, emergency room doctors, and criminal and family court judges, need a deeper understanding of abuse patterns and psychological “tells,” so that we can all more easily decode and halt domestic violence in its earliest stages.
5) How could someone as attractive and successful as Hope Solo be a domestic violence abuser? Offenders are often demonized as 100% bad people. Yet, like Hope Solo, offenders are rarely evil people, and most have many admirable qualities. They may have a troubled history of childhood abuse that invoke sympathy. Some pretend to be friendly and respectable, to cover up their abusive tendencies and ensure that their victims will not be believed. The sympathetic, seductive nature of abusers is one reason we victims can love abusers, protect them from the consequences of their behavior, and give them another chance when they say they’ll never hurt us again.
So talk to your daughters (and sons) about Hope Solo. Use her story to educate them, in age appropriate ways, about the realities of relationship abuse. Solo may not want this role, or even realize the value this ugly situation offers kids. But this is an opportunity for Hope Solo, with a little help from us parents, to inspire children to find courage far from the soccer field.