Imagine you’re at an ATM near your home. You’re headed to your niece’s high school graduation party and want to put some cash in her card. As soon as you let go of the door of the bank lobby and step back onto the sidewalk, you’re approached by a larger, imposing person who demands the money you just withdrew.
You comply, and they run off. Your heart is pounding in your ears, your hands are shaking.
Police find the robber, and when the robber is in front of a judge, you find out not only are they not remorseful, they did the same thing to at least seven other people in the days before and after you were robbed.
The judge acknowledges the crimes were committed, even says they believe the robber will do the same thing again. But since they never actually harmed you with a weapon or their fists and only verbally threatened you, the punishment will be five hours of unsupervised community service.
You’d be furious, right? After all, you may not have been physically hurt, but the mental and emotional damage meant weeks of vivid nightmares, and even months later you’re terrified to walk in your neighborhood, the one that not so long ago felt comfortable.
This, in a nutshell, is what independent arbitrator Sue L. Robinson said to the accusers of Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson in her decision released Monday, the meandering one in which she wrote yes, Watson did commit sexual assault, but in her estimation it was “non-violent.”
Much of her 16-page ruling — which was limited, Robinson wrote, to the four massage therapists whose testimony was included in the NFL's investigative report, and not all 24 women who filed civil lawsuits — was nonsensical. But apparently to Robinson, since there were no rape kits, no bruises, no ripped underwear in an evidence envelope somewhere, then the mental and emotional trauma suffered by the accusers was apparently not worth considering as she meted out Watson’s punishment.
Of the four women the NFL presented to make its argument during the hearing, one said she needed therapy after her appointment with Watson and is “struggling to work,” according to the ruling. Another said she was battling depression and sleeplessness because of what she alleges Watson did to her. Another is considering leaving massage therapy entirely.
That’s not violent?
Ashley Solis, the first woman to file suit against Watson, has gone on the record multiple times with her allegation of Watson’s sexually inappropriate and unwanted behavior during their appointment. Two years after her interaction with Watson, she's still brought to tears by the memory of it, as evidenced by her interview with Soledad O’Brien on HBO’s “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel” that aired May.
That’s not violent?
Since Robinson’s decision gives the impression that she was wedded to the letter of the personal conduct policy and not the spirit of it, she perhaps should look up the definition of "violent" because it is not so narrow as she thinks it is. Violence can be in force or effect. The effect Watson’s behavior had on Solis and these other women was violent.
Sexual assault no more requires the physical violence Robinson seems to think it does than racism requires the n-word and white hoods. Both can wound and cause lasting scars without any physical interaction — and in Watson’s case, there was allegedly that as well, with some women accusing him of touching them with his penis or ejaculating on them or forcing them to perform oral sex. Sexual assault hinges on consent. These women did not give their consent to Watson for his behavior.
Robinson’s words may have many long-lasting consequences, few of them good, but in the moment they serve to highlight that too many people still do not have a good enough understanding of what sexual violence is, including former federal judges.
And they also underscore to many of us, once again, how some people, even other women, perceive women as disposable, especially if they’re Black or brown or work in the service industry.
Robinson wrote that she believed the NFL’s contention that Watson “had a sexual purpose — not just a therapeutic purpose — in making these arrangements.”
She wrote that Watson knew “the sexualized contact was unwanted.”
She wrote that Watson had committed sexual assault as defined by the NFL.
She wrote that Watson still shows no remorse, acted with “reckless disregard for the consequences,” and that his pattern of conduct is “more egregious than any before reviewed by the NFL.”
She thinks Watson is such a danger that she wants him, for the remainder of his career, to get massages only through his team or with a team-approved therapist.
To some of us, that sounds like a predator, someone who knows what they’re doing is wrong, does it anyway and could do it again in the future.
And yet given all of this, Robinson gave Watson what amounts to a slap on the wrist.
His non-throwing one at that.