by Kari Lorimer
Let’s not skirt around the issue, I’m just going to call it what it is: Kasandra Perkins was a victim of domestic violence. Period. Perkins’ death was tragic, heart breaking, and wrong. And unfortunately, it is not an uncommon story; almost one-third of female homicide victims that are reported in police records are killed by an intimate partner.
Having said that, I’m not going to discuss Belcher’s character or even the serious problem the NFL seems to have with players that are perpetrators of domestic violence and sexual assault. Instead, I want to discuss the role that media isn’t playing in calling it what it is.
The vast media coverage of Jovan Belcher murdering his girlfriend, Kasandra Perkins, and then killing himself is both disheartening and frustrating. There has been some mention of domestic violence but, if anything, the media might be reinforcing stereotypes about domestic violence by what they choose to focus on, such as alcohol use causing the argument to become more heated, indicating that Belcher doesn’t fit the typical profile of an abuser, or touting that Belcher had pledged to never be violent to women. Let’s be clear: alcohol does not cause domestic violence and anyone can be a perpetrator of domestic violence, even if they have made a pledge not to be.
In my time working as an advocate for victims of domestic violence, I had the opportunity to train throughout the community about domestic violence. In order to prepare for the trainings, I would do an internet search to research current events related to domestic violence. Sometimes the search was rather difficult – not, unfortunately, because the violence wasn’t happening but because the media didn’t call it what it was.
I would cringe every time I read something about an intimate partner that was brutally murdered or beaten but the article indicated that it wasn’t domestic violence because there was no history of violence or the perpetrator hadn’t shown any violent tendencies. Or even worse, the phrase domestic violence wasn’t even referred to at all.
I cringed for multiple reasons. I cringed because the media doesn’t seem to understand intimate partner violence and all its nuances and is passing those misconceptions on to their readers. But, I also cringed because it feels like a waste of time determining if there had been prior violent tendencies because if you understand domestic violence, the lack of visible history shouldn’t be surprising.
In their 2003 report “Criminal Victimization,” the U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics indicated that domestic violence is one of the most chronically underreported crimes. The reasons for not reporting the violence are endless ranging from embarrassment to fear and the idea that “what happens in the home stays in the home” is still very prevalent in our society. So, is it any wonder that there often doesn’t appear to be a history of violence?
Rather than focusing on the lack of violent history in the relationship, the public would be better served if the media focused on the violence itself and using its power to educate the readers. Rather than focusing on how none of the neighbors thought there were any problems, the focus should be on what would keep a victim from telling their story and educating the public about all the different types of abuse, the red flags that could indicate a violent relationship, and how to help someone who is in an abusive relationship. And most importantly, please call it what it is: domestic violence.
To give credit where credit is due, the Kansas City Chiefs called it what it is. They took a step in the right direction when they held a moment of silence for victims of domestic violence at their game last Sunday.