Caught on Tape: Tony Farmer and Violence Among Teens

tony-farmer-andrea-lane
Farmer and Lane in court.

Tony Farmer, a top basketball recruit out of Ohio, was recently sentenced to three years in prison for assaulting his ex-girlfriend, Andrea Lane. Footage of Farmer, who pled guilty to robbery, kidnapping, felonious assault, and intimidating a victim, receiving his sentence has gone viral. Sentiment surrounding the video has gone two ways:  toward taunts of “soft” and “coward” at Farmer for crying and not “taking his bid like a man” or assertions that Farmer got what he deserved and justice was done. As a staunch supporter of victims of violence who possesses an understanding of criminal law, I tend to lean toward the latter sentiment but I must admit that when I first watched the video, I felt a pang of sadness reflecting the assortment of emotions – confusion, shock, and despair – that flashed across Farmer’s face in a matter of seconds. Call me soft but I see two victims here. Two young people whose lives and the lives of their families are forever changed. I wasn’t at all sad for Farmer’s college basketball prospects (reports indicated interest from Ohio State, Michigan State, Xavier, and others) or even the loss of another young black male to jail. Mostly, it was the knowledge that this kind of thing is the new normal in relationships and we’re doing little to call it out, name it, and stop it.

Surveillance video of the incident obtained by a local news affiliate shows Farmer striking Lane in the head, hitting her repeatedly as she cowered in a corner and begged him to stop. According to reports, he was unrelenting – dragging her outside by the hair and continuing to assault her when she attempted to escape, kicking her in the head multiple times. You can view the video and accompanying report here if you’re so inclined.

The news report also shows a tearful Andrea Lane requesting leniency from the court on Farmer’s behalf. “I know he was a good person. I hope he still is,” she said. “He really needs help. I don’t think they’ll give him that.” Allow me to point out how eerily familiar this sounds to Rihanna’s recent interview with Oprah when asked how she felt about Chris Brown. Like Lane, a teary-eyed Rihanna radiating the pain of both a very public and private hurt, said she’d forgiven Brown. “I just felt like he made that mistake because he needed help. And who’s going to help him?” she told Oprah. Rihanna was 20 years old when Brown assaulted her.

It should be noted that Farmer assaulted Lane when she refused to get back together with him. A similar story played out with another rising basketball star, 18-year old Aquille Carr, who kicked and punched his ex-girlfriend and mother of his child when she said she didn’t want to be with him anymore. The National Network to End Domestic Violence reports that the most dangerous time for a victim of domestic violence is when she takes steps to leave the relationship. Let those who wonder why she doesn’t just leave marinate on that one for a second. Then think how much harder it must be if you’re a teenager and your relationship provides you with status, friends, and an identity.

A lot has been made of the fact that Rihanna forgives Brown and I’m betting much will be made of Lane’s speaking out on behalf of Farmer but in young people’s relationships especially, it can be really difficult to sever all ties to your abusive boyfriend or girlfriend. If you love them, you just want the abuse to end, not the whole relationship. You want them to get better. You need them to get that help Rihanna and Andrea Lane talked about.

Not to sound like an old lady but I’m concerned for young people these days. It’s hard enough growing up in the age of social media, a depressed economy, hyper-sexualized society, political turmoil, etcetera, etcetera. One would hope that you were texting all through the night with your BF because you love flirting and not because it’s another means for him to threaten you. FYI, police say Tony Farmer tried to intimate his ex-girlfriend after he was arrested for assaulting her by sending her threatening text messages.

The next time you see a group of young girls laughing it up on the bus, know that one in three is likely a victim of physical, emotional or verbal abuse from a dating partner. If she’s not the victim, then she probably knows someone who is, since one in three teens reports knowing a peer who has been hit, punched, kicked, slapped or physically hurt by a partner. According to Futures Without Violence (formerly the Family Violence Prevention Fund), this figure far exceeds victimization rates for other types of violence affecting youth. This isn’t just a case of puppy love gone sour or a lover’s quarrel gone too far. Unfortunately, for a significant portion of young people, “going steady”, dating, hooking up, or whatever they’re calling it these days, is fraught with danger.

People are debating whether Farmer’s sentence was fair considering he’s guilty of what some believe was just a young man’s mistake. I’ve been trained to argue both sides of the matter but I won’t. I refuse. I’m much more concerned  about what we’re doing to teach teens about healthy relationships, especially when many adults are struggling with these very issues in their 30s and beyond. I’m truly worried. Fortunately there are organizations working with schools, community groups, and influencers to get the word out. Check out Love is Not AbuseBreak the Cycle and Love is Respect (the National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline), for information on how to identify teen dating violence as well as help communicating with young people about the issue. The court has an opportunity to review and change Farmer’s sentence after 180 days but it’s safe to say that his  prospects have dwindled. Keeping him out of jail may save Tony Farmer’s future, but I’m more interested in the futures of the many boys and girls enduring the same situations and calling it love.