Jovan Belcher: Domestic violence is not just an NFL problem
SAN DIEGO, December 3, 2012 – Millions of NFL fans are still stunned over the shocking news this weekend that Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher killed his girlfriend, then drove to his team’s headquarters and shot himself, committing suicide in front of his general manager Scott Pioli and head coach Romeo Crennel.
The specific catalyst for the murder-suicide of Belcher and his 22-year-old girlfriend Kasandra Perkins isn’t known yet. But the two of them had apparently been arguing frequently. Others called the relationship “strained.” They had a three-month old daughter, who is now being cared for by family.
Today, critics say the NFL has a serious domestic violence problem. As a family law attorney who sees the results of domestic violence on a regular basis, I’m here to tell you domestic violence is not just an NFL problem. It is a problem in every single facet of our society.
Don’t blame the game. Blame the culture of denial about domestic violence in this country.
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, an average of three women are murdered by an intimate partner every day in the United States. This means another nine women are potentially dead right now since the murder of Kasandra Perkins by Jovan Belcher.
They didn’t make the headlines, except perhaps in their local communities.There was no public mourning.
It would not be a surprise if we learn in the days ahead that Perkins had discussed initiating a breakup with Belcher, and he reacted with violence. This is much more common than people realize. Starting divorce proceedings or initiating the breakup of a romantic relationship is a significant trigger for domestic violence. The statistics speak for themselves:
- Violence is the reason stated for one in five divorces.
- Battered women seek medical attention for domestic violence injuries significantly more often after separation than during cohabitation.
- About 75% of the visits to emergency rooms by battered women occur after separation.
- Women who leave their batterers are at 75% greater risk of severe injury or death than those who stay. (Source: National Coalition Against Domestic Violence).
The two weeks after a woman files for divorce or initiates a breakup, cohabiting or not, is the time she is at greatest risk.
We sadly cannot do anything to ease the pain of the losses and the horror of how they happened within the Belcher and Perkins families. A little girl will now grow up without parents. But we can start taking this situation more seriously. Women need to consider themselves at risk when leaving any long-term relationship.
Women must protect themselves and their children from being a victim BEFORE she files for divorce or initiates a breakup. Create an exit strategy. If there are children involved, it is even more critical to take precautions.
First, be sure you have a safe place to stay for a few weeks after you deliver the news about breaking up. Consider getting out ahead of time so you don’t have to return to the home you share. It may be wise to stay with a relative or a friend, out of town or somewhere your husband or boyfriend doesn’t know about. At the least, consider changing all of the locks on your residence if you don’t live together.
Deliver the news in a public place. You don’t want to humiliate someone, but with witnesses around the individual is far less likely to fly into a rage and harm you. If you’ve made sure you have a safe place for you and your children to go, you’re putting time and distance on your side until the other person can cool down.
Be especially careful going to and from your place of work. If you aren’t able to be located any other way, someone who wants to threaten you or do you bodily harm likely knows where you work and what times you arrive and leave. Take extra precautions. Ask security to escort you in and out of the building. Choose a different way to get to work or a different form of transportation. If you have time off available, consider using it.
I’m often asked whether women should get a restraining order first. Restraining orders are just pieces of paper; they will not magically protect you from someone so angry he or she would consider seriously harming you. Don’t count on one to keep you safe.
However, once you have initiated the breakup, a restraining order may provide law enforcement an additional tool to help you. Most states offer different types of restraining orders. In California, there are four types to protect victims and their families.
Consulting with a family law attorney can help you prepare your exit strategy and put the legal protections in place that could provide the edge and awareness that saves your life.
If you believe your situation has the potential to become extremely threatening or violent, consider putting yourself and your children into a shelter. If at anytime you feel unsafe call 911, stop a police officer in the street, or go to the nearest police station.
Maybe this drastic advice seems a little over the top to you. Perhaps you think it will seem foolish to take these kind of serious steps when nothing really bad has ever happened before. You should not hesitate. Crime statistics tells us that women need to be especially cautious when breaking up with someone or initiating a divorce. The risk to you and your children is too great to ignore.
And until we all accept the reality of domestic violence, the need for this advice will continue.