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February 27, 2015


Earlier this week while watching ESPN (yes, I watch ESPN), a ticker ran across the bottom of the screen with the message that a player had been dismissed from the University of Louisville basketball team. The next sentence on the ticker was that the player had sent a threatening text message to a woman he has had a relationship with for much of the past year. The third sentence was that the player had plans to meet with former NBA player and coach John Lucas to work on his anger management. Whoa, let’s stop right there. Anger management???

Let me state right now, that I don’t know the circumstances of the Louisville player’s dismissal. In fact, as of this time, Louisville Coach Rick Pitino has not said why the player was dismissed. I don’t know anything about the player’s relationship with the woman. What I do know is that ESPN reported the player sent a threatening text message, and for me, that implies a potential domestic violence situation.

I think that there have been great strides made in the past year regarding no tolerance for family violence of any kind, due in large part to the high profile cases of 2014. I’m glad to see both college and professional sports figures stepping up to denounce any acts of violence against women or children. However, our next step needs to be making sure that abusers receive appropriate treatment and/or punishment. Domestic violence is not about controlling anger – it’s about domination, power and control of an intimate partner. This can be in the form of physical, sexual, verbal or emotional abuse. Domestic violence behavior is dangerous, and can lead to death.

Domestic violence offenders need to be in a Batterer’s Intervention and Prevention Program or BIPP. BIPP is a specialized and individual counseling program designed specifically to create an additional layer of supervision of the offender. Participants in the program are held accountable for their behavior and must acknowledge they alone are responsible for their relationship cruelty, abuse and violence. BIPPs provide ongoing communication with referral sources through entrance, exit, and monthly progress reports. In Texas, BIPPs are accredited by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice-Community Justice Assistance Division and must adhere to the BIPP Guidelines which regulate minimum program requirements. BIPP is designed to keep the victim safe, not to salvage the relationship.

Anger management programs are designed for any person that inappropriately expresses anger at everyone and are not sufficient for domestic violence offenders.

Judge Roberto Canas, who presides over Dallas County Criminal Court #10 has said, “Battering Intervention and Prevention Programs are the greatest tools I have for addressing abusive behavior and for holding batterers accountable.” Judge Canas requires domestic violence offenders to complete BIPP, “because it is effective at addressing power and control issues, much more so than an anger management program.” 

I’m glad that I live in a city that takes domestic violence seriously. In 2013, Mayor Mike Rawlings initiated the Dallas Men Against Abuse campaign, saying that violence against women is a men’s issue, and we won’t tolerate it any longer.”

District Judge Rick Magnis, who presides over the 283rd District Court, leads a program that monitors highly dangerous family violence offenders on probation for a felony. It is one of several initiatives that Dallas County judges are using to try to curb domestic violence.

And, the Dallas Police Department has implemented a “lethality assessment program,” where patrol officers are asking 11 yes-and-no questions during domestic violence calls to ascertain whether it’s a high-risk situation. If a victim answers “yes” to crucial questions, police call a domestic violence hotline to provide immediate help. Genesis Women’s Shelter and The Family Place are the two shelters partnering with Dallas police on the project.

In Maryland, where the “Lethality Assessment Program” originated and is being used by nearly every law enforcement agency, the number of intimate partner homicides dropped by more than 40 percent over a five-year period.

I’m hoping that we see the same kind of results in Dallas. But more importantly, we need to continue to use evidence-informed approaches to combat family violence. Because EVERYONE should be safe in their homes.

Shelli Stephens-Stidham   


If you are an injury prevention professional (and even if you’re not), you’ve undoubtedly heard about the Nationwide commercial that aired during the Super Bowl about a boy dying from a preventable injury. The ad has generated a lot of conversation among the media, as well as anyone with an opinion and a Twitter account (not always a good combination). The Washington Post said “Make Safe Happen was a big drag on America’s party, no matter how important the message.” One media source reported that a viewer wrote “Your commercial was horrible and depressing.”

News flash people – injuries and resulting deaths are horrible and depressing! They are a “buzz kill” regardless of when and where they happen.  

Injuries (both unintentional and intentional) are the leading cause of death for persons 1-44 years of age. They aren’t just the leading cause of death for children, but also for teenagers and young adults (see the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Violence and injuries affect everyone, regardless of age, race, or economic status. And, deaths are only part of the problem. Each year, millions of people are injured and survive with life-long mental, physical, and financial problems.

Nationwide released a statement late Sunday evening following the Super Bowl that said, “Nationwide ran an ad during the Super Bowl that started a fierce conversation. The sole purpose of this message was to start a conversation, not sell insurance. We want to build awareness of an issue that is near and dear to all of us — the safety and well-being of our children. We knew the ad would spur a variety of reactions. In fact, thousands of people visited, a new website to help educate parents and caregivers with information and resources in an effort to make their homes safer and avoid a potential injury or death.”

 While I applaud Nationwide’s attempt “to start a conversation,” it is time for action, not just talk. We need to put health and safety at the center of decision-making and develop a “health and safety in all policies” approach. Rather than the dissemination of information in brochures and public awareness campaigns, we need to do what my friend Larry Cohen says, and implement community-level strategies that focus on changing environmental conditions or policies that contribute to injuries. It’s worked in the past (e.g., seat belt and child passenger safety laws, child resistant packaging, fire-safe cigarettes, motor vehicle and roadway safety standards, etc.).

 It’s time we “put our money where our mouth is” and started to make a real impact on a very serious problem. #MakeSafeHappen

 Shelli Stephens-Stidham

Director, Injury Prevention Center of Greater Dallas

February 3, 2015   

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