The Story of Abuse Larger Than Adrian Peterson

I’ve never seen anything quite like it.

Last week it was Adrian Peterson all day every day on the local talk radio shows and in every newspaper sports column in Minneapolis and St. Paul. The sensationalized celebrity football player who whipped and injured his four-year-old child with a switch didn’t have a chance. On and on they went with pious demonization. Appropriate shock, anger, and thoughtful consideration were overwhelmed by the explosion of shadowy energy that brought him from adulation to contempt in a moment.

Many dynamics played themselves out without reflection in the rush to judge and be done with it all: abuse, parenting, Texas justice, corporal punishment, cultural differences, the tearing down of heroic athletes, and the dissemination of illegally obtained police reports and invasive photos of the child.

Finally they drove him out-of-town.

I didn’t think a criminal indictment was necessary: Peterson cooperated with authorities without an attorney present. He voluntarily testified before a grand jury. Based on what we know right now, I think he needs help to unlearn what he experienced as a child more than he needs constant public humiliation. Appropriate shock and anger were understandable and necessary. But a humbled Peterson also deserved our empathy and compassion–not our self-righteous vilification. He will make a plea deal or go to trial before a jury of his peers in Texas. His punishment will be insignificant. I don’t care about his punishment; I care that he demonstrates that he’s learned better ways to discipline children, and I care about his future behavior.

Just a few weeks ago, I wrote about the tragic death of four-year-old Eric Dean professionally chronicled by Star Tribune reporter Brandon Stahl. Eric’s stepmother murdered him. Over many months before his death, people reported 15 instances of child abuse to Pope County, MN child protective services. Only one was investigated and wrongly dismissed. Citizens of Minnesota expressed their outrage but not to the level of the star athlete.

How could that be?

A violent and soul-destroying story underreported as much as the Peterson story was overblown goes on without end every day in the midst of those so upset last week.

Some Minnesota facts:

  • In 2013, men murdered 25 women in Minnesota in domestic abuse situations.
  • Women murdered seven men.
  • People made over 18,000 domestic violence calls to 911 in Minneapolis alone in 2009.
  • Child services in Minnesota does not investigate 71% of reports of child abuse.

Some national statistics:

  • A man batters a woman every nine seconds in the US.
  • An intimate partner has assaulted 25% of US women.
  • Police spend 1/3rd of their time responding to domestic violence disturbance calls.
  • Women of all races are about equally vulnerable to violence by an intimate partner.

Emotional, physical, and sexual abuse permeates our society. I never consulted in an organization where emotional abuse wasn’t prevalent. In addition to domestic abuse, some athletes—professional and amateur–bully those perceived to be “soft,” demonize gays and lesbians, and demand silence and conformity in the locker room. Reporters often observe this behavior and their silence colludes with the abuse. Newspapers report ugly stories of bullying and abuse in our schools. And what’s left to say about the Catholic Church? Abuse surrounds us.

Have we become desensitized to what is around us? Do we only react to what is new and sensational?

We need to wake up and see the reality of abuse as it is—not just the celebrity cases that poke our dark sides and gin up dumbed-down anger that is dangerous and unhealthy. Then we need to take on the challenges and with an anger transformed to a relentless determination eliminate abuse of all kinds in our lives, neighborhoods, workplaces, and national personality.
















Speaking to Students about Emotional Abuse

Wahpeton Daily Post

Wahpeton, MD & Breckenridge, MN

Posted: Thursday, November 8, 2007 12:00 am

Emotional abuse begins as a control issue and can spiral into physical abuse. Tom and Melanie Heuerman visited North Dakota State College of Science Wednesday to speak to students on how abuse affects everyday life.

Tom Heuerman, Ph.D., is currently a consultant who has devoted the past 14 years of his life to coaching the impact of abuse. Melanie Heuerman is the administrative officer for the U.S. Department of Justice in Fargo, and also volunteers her time at the Rape and Abuse Crisis Center in Fargo-Moorhead.

“At one time or another, and sometimes more frequently, all of us have been made to feel like ‘nobody’s’ in our life,” Tom Heuerman said, speaking to roughly 50 students in the Plains and Prairie Room. “That includes the most successful and least successful of us.”

Tom Heuerman is a former agent in the U.S. Service and worked for 18 years at the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. When he was 52, he received a Ph.D. in leadership and organizational change. In his experience working under corporate management, he found that the male-female dynamic in relationships can be applied to the workplace.

“I’ve never been in an organization where you can’t find abuse,” he said.

Emotional abuse can cause tremendous damage in a work environment, such as money loss, poor employee work efficiency and high turnover. Part of his desire is to help those in the corporate world and in schools to recognize the multiple forms of emotional abuse and the measures individuals can take to prevent it.

Emotional abuse is characterized by body language, words and actions that can hurt or frighten others. While a number of adjectives are associated to each element of abuse, such as rejection, humiliation, anxiety and withdrawal, there is only one element consistent in all definitions.

“It’s an ongoing process,” Tom Heuerman said, “But the core point of the relationship (for abusers) is to hurt and frighten for the purpose of control.”

Other forms of abuse include maltreatment of pets, which is sometimes a precursor to abusing people, and in family settings, an example might be one parent treating a child nicely to emphasize their anger at the other partner.

Abusers tend to be predictable, manipulative and charming, which is a method used to draw the victim in. They have a tendency to always give excuses during arguments and blame others for their troubles.

As a result, victims of abuse typically lose all sense of self, living their life in fear and deny their own needs to avoid furthering it. They suffer from low self-esteem, depression or start abusing drugs. When someone feels consistently put down, ignored, or that their partner is withholding approval or appreciation, these can all be signs indicating an abusive relationship. And while men experience abuse in their life, the great majority of victims are women.

In 2006, roughly 2,800 people passed through the Rape and Abuse Crisis Center in Fargo, Melanie Heuerman said. One thousand six hundred of those victims reported domestic violence and the remaining 1,200 were sexually assaulted.

“In a small community like ours, to hear that there were 1,200 sexual assaults in the Fargo-Moorhead area, that’s a lot,” she said.

One issue that specifically faces women is economic exploitation, where they earn a portion of the family income but it is either taken away or they have little say in where it is pooled. But whether men or women suffer from emotional abuse, the scars run deep and cause the greatest harm.

Tom Heuerman told the male students to stand up for women and get involved.

“The greatest problem is indifference,” he said. “Unless we start holding ourselves absolutely accountable, organizations like the Rape and Abuse Crisis Center will only help the wounded. We have to get on the other side of it.”

The Dark Side of the Public Reaction to Ray Rice & Adrian Peterson

Anybody can become angry – that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way – that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy.


I too am bothered by the Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson stories. My wife and I completed 40 hours of training as volunteer speakers at the Fargo/Moorhead Rape and Abuse Crisis Center. Our eyes were opened to the pervasiveness and destructiveness of abuse in our society. We did many projects for the Center, and I did many hours of consulting at no cost. I wrote several commentaries on emotional, physical, and sexual abuse. Rice and Peterson will pay a dear price for their actions.

I am also bothered by what feels like excessive, misplaced, and poorly expressed anger in some newspaper columnists, readers who comment on articles, and radio talk-show hosts and their callers. They come across as politically correct, self-righteous, harshly judgmental, and self-promoting:  “The more I damn Rice and Peterson, the better person I am.” Their rush to judge and to punish without due process, information, understanding of context, or a sense of proportion scares me. I have thought, “This is what a lynch mob is like.” I’ve been guilty of these things too.

Some feel upset that the team management didn’t instantly punish Peterson as they want him to be punished. People should break away from their paternalistic relationship with organizations and quit looking to owners and executives to meet their need to strike out.

These folks and the good people who remain silent might channel some of their anger in more constructive ways: People who condemn Peterson and the Viking’s management should live true to their own values, put their anger to constructive use, and do what they can to model their convictions: don’t go, watch, or listen to Viking games. Don’t buy team merchandise. Columnists might illuminate abuse and educate readers. Talk-show hosts could turn the spotlight on the emotional, physical, and sexual abuse that surrounds us just below the surface of our awareness.

All should get angry at the vast abuse that permeates our society, not just the celebrity cases.

And everyone should speak up when they witness abuse in the family, neighborhood, and workplace.