Sunday morning, December 2nd, we awoke to national news reports of a woman murdered by her famous boyfriend. He killed his girlfriend-- the mother of their 3-month-old daughter-- in the early hours of the morning. He pulled out a gun and shot her in front of his infant daughter and his own mother. He then drove to his workplace and fatally shot himself in the parking lot after apologizing to his bosses.
The victim’s name was Kasandra Perkins, and her murderer was Jovan Belcher, a linebacker for the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs. Their three-month-old daughter, Zoey, is now an orphan. Family and friends lives were destroyed instantly, needlessly.
As often happens when a woman is murdered by her intimate partner, the public at large immediately began searching for reasons to explain or excuse the perpetrator’s behavior. We first did as we are trained: we sought to blame the victim; looking to see if she were somehow responsible for “setting off” her intimate partner, putting herself in harm’s way. Finding nothing there we began looking for external factors – mental illness, substance abuse, anger management issues.
Since the perpetrator in this case was an NFL player, the pundits latched on to ”traumatic brain injury” – the result of concussions, head injuries and the violence endemic to the sport of football – to explain this horrific murder. We believe the facts will prove otherwise.
Over the past 40 years, considerable effort has been spent to understand domestic violence (also known as intimate partner violence), an issue former Surgeon General C. Everet Koop labeled the single most important health problem facing women. Statistics show that one in three women will experience violence by an intimate partner in her lifetime. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, approximately one-third of female murder victims aged 12 or older (consistently well over 1,100 women and girls per year) are killed by an intimate partner. Murders of women have become so commonplace that many statisticians have adopted a new term, “femicide”, to more succinctly describe the phenomenon.
So do all men and boys who batter, control and/or ultimately murder their intimate partners have traumatic brain injury, anger management issues or one of the other myriad of problems used since the beginning of written history to excuse gender-based violence against women? Of course not. The root cause of this type of violence is pervasive and much closer at hand; we only have to have the courage to name it.
First let’s define the problem: Domestic/intimate partner violence is a pattern of coercive and intimidating behaviors, emotional, sexual, psychological, physical and financial, used by one intimate partner to control another. We cannot take credit for this definition; it has evolved as a universal understanding among survivors of domestic violence, the professionals who service them, governmental agencies, law enforcement and the medical community. The same consensus has been built to acknowledge the simple truth as to the cause of this behavior.
This is not an issue of one or more “bad men”. Rather, these behaviors are learned/accepted by all of us. They are historically rooted in our society and are supported by traditions, belief systems, attitudes and practices that have established and perpetuated men’s privilege for centuries, together with the concomitant devaluation and marginalization of women. Until we broaden this consensus around this simple truth throughout our communities and all of our institutions, we will never be capable of reducing and ultimately ending violence against women and girls.
We recognize the massive scope of changes needed to create this consensus and ultimately end gender-based violence. It will not happen overnight. But by working together, perhaps we can create a tipping point where patterns of behavior that support mistreatment, abuse and violence toward women and girls will no longer be tolerated. We owe it to Kasandra Perkins; to Zoey, and to all victims and survivors of domestic/intimate partner violence.
If you are interested in helping or for more information, please contact the Center for Safety & Change: 845-634-3391.