This is what we know from media reports: On Dec. 1 former Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher selected a weapon from his sizable collection of guns and fired nine shots into Kasandra Perkins, the mother of his infant daughter. He then drove to the Chiefs training facility and, in front of the team’s coach and general manager, shot himself in the head.
That was two months ago. After driving up web traffic in the wham-whiz-bang of our current pop culture news media, with side discussions on repetitive head injuries, gun control and the NFL’s “problem” with domestic violence, it feels like old news now. Purple ribbons have been worn, moments of silence held, the game goes on.
But for the millions of women living with domestic violence, the horror continues. Domestic violence is a pattern of behavior that can manifest in physical abuse and also mind-numbing and soul-depleting isolation and humiliation. Controlling behavior takes a terrible toll. This happens every day, not only in the heady lives of our sports and media celebrities, but in the homes of our neighbors, families, friends and coworkers.
In the United States, 25 percent of women experience domestic violence at some point in their lives. Three women each day are murdered by their intimate partners, and in most of these cases there has been a prior history of abuse. Women ages 18 to 24 are at the highest risk, and the single most dangerous time for a victim of domestic violence is when she tries to leave. And many do leave.
At New Beginnings, a nonprofit that supports those affected by domestic violence, I’ve had the privilege of speaking with courageous women who have made it to safety, in spite of limited resources and very real dangers. There’s “Madou,” whose husband threatened to kidnap her children if she left; there’s “Priscilla,” who lost a baby after a particularly violent beating; and there’s “Binita,” who left and relocated several times only to be found by her partner and taken back into a violent home.* They all ultimately found refuge at New Beginnings.
The Washington State Coalition on Domestic Violence regularly publishes data on domestic violence fatalities in our state. According to the most recent report, covering Jan. 1, 2011, to June 30, 2012, there were 94 deaths in Washington related to domestic violence. Of these, 65 were murdered by an abuser or an abuser’s associate. Seven men and 41 women were killed by partners or former partners, and 21 were murder-suicides. People connected to the intended victims were also killed, including a friend, a sister and adult daughters and sons. And young people were not spared: nine children were murdered. And some, like the daughter of the Kansas City Chiefs linebacker and his girlfriend, were orphaned.
The profiles of the perpetrators cut across class, gender, race, culture, age and sexual orientation. And the ramifications for our community are enormous: higher healthcare costs, lost wages and productivity, lost and damaged lives.
What can you do? Pay attention to the cashier at the grocery store, who every week sports a new bruise just barely concealed with makeup, or your friend whose partner is tracking her every move and monopolizing her time to the point of isolation. Or maybe you have a friend who treats his partner in ways that trouble you. You want to speak up, but what do you say? You can prepare yourself to have these conversations. You don’t have to be an expert. You don’t have to have all the answers. But you can take simple steps to end domestic violence.
We’ve found that for victims facing domestic violence, the first people they turn to are family members or friends. If someone contacts you, here are a few things you can do:
Listen: Hear what he or she has to say without being judgmental. Show you care.
Validate: You may not understand your friend’s decisions, but maybe the victim is doing everything he or she can to stay safe.
Connect: Don’t let your friend become isolated. Be clear on how you’re willing to help.
Act: Give your friend the Help Line number at New Beginnings or call the line yourself and find out how to help your friend stay safe: 206-522-9472.
This is what we know: If we don’t speak up, if we only pay attention to celebrity stories of domestic violence splashed across the tabloids and if we ignore the abuse occurring in the house next door, the violence will continue. You can make a difference.