In the aftermath of the agonizing Jovan Belcher/Kasandra Perkins murder-suicide, media outlets and sports anchors have been examining possible triggers for Belcher’s heinous crime. But in the liner notes of the chatter about America’s gun culture, the prevalence of mental illness in football, and the shunning of black men’s mental health are the disturbing statistics.

  • A 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS) from the Centers for Disease Control discovered that 1 in 4 women have been the victim of severe physical violence by an intimate partner.
  • This statistic increases among African-American women, who experience domestic violence at a rate that is 35 percent higher than Caucasian women.
  • The University of Minnesota’s Institute on Domestic Violence in the African-American Community found that thought black women comprise 8 percent of the U.S. population, but in 2005 accounted for 22 percent of the intimate partner homicide victims and 29 percent of all women victims of intimate partner homicide.

Though these deaths have rattled our culture because of the prominence of the perpetrator, intimate partner violence is a societal ill that stems from patriarchy. We have not determined what caused Belcher to unleash bullets into his daughter’s mother, but her murder symbolizes the continuous battle against violence in relationships.

Kasandra Perkins and Zoey Belcher (their daughter) are the victims in this tragedy. Although we are still learning more details about the personal lives, family, and friends of the two victims, in most of these instances, however, there are forgotten grievers: The close friends who may have known of this pattern of behavior, were powerless in stopping it, and are now feeling guilty.

I am one of the 74 percent of Americans who knows someone who has been a victim of domestic violence.  I watched those episodes of “Maury” with the abusers and the drill sergeants and thought that this plateau of violence would never permeate my life.

That changed when I was a junior in college. A close friend’s partner was using abusive words to shred her self-esteem. It was surreal to watch her fold into the fetal position and bawl until she was physically ill when he threatened to leave after he hurled insults at her for hours.

As in most relationships, their courtship started off well.  He wined, dined, and loved her, though he was unemployed without a high school diploma or career prospects. His need to control her — while also lessening her confidence to improve his — began to shroud the positives in their relationship. By the end, his hands had been around her throat, he had used social media to destroy her reputation in their hometown, and he still had complete control over her emotions. She told me that while he was choking her, all she could scream was how much she loved him.

I felt helpless watching the abuse from the sidelines. Regardless of the emotional support I provided and the “Girl, leave him! He is abusive” speeches, she still continued the relationship. She was fortunate enough to escape with her life. A lot of other women aren’t as fortunate. I can’t begin to fathom how Perkins’ friends are coping with her sudden loss.

Being the friend of an abuse victim puts many women in a difficult and painful position, but it is essential to realize how valuable that friendship is.  The University of Minnesota’s Institute on Domestic Violence in the African-American Community reports that “women in abusive relationships need the support of friends and family. Battered black women who reported that they could rely on others for emotional and practical support were less likely to be re-abused, showed less psychological distress, and were less likely to attempt suicide.”

By supporting her, listening to her, refusing to pass judgment, encouraging her to seek help, and not spreading her business, friends have the power to intervene without being obtrusive.

Be Supportive

This is much easier said than done, but most abusers isolate their victims, so if you’re a confidante, cherish the position and use the power wisely.

Don’t Pass Judgment

I included this tip because I am guilty of it.  I didn’t realize that I was passing judgment when I would spew negativity about her relationship, but that’s precisely what I was doing. Do not voice opinions. It might be perceived as an attempt to degrade the relationship, which is not what that friend needs or want.

Just Listen

Sometimes, listening instead of offering advice is best.

Confidentiality is Key

Keep her business private, period. She might withdraw and isolate herself, which can aid in the escalation of the abuse.

Encourage Her to Seek Professional Help

All forms of abuse take a toll on the victim’s self-esteem, which enables the abuser to continue his/her behavior. Professional help during and after an abusive relationship is essential to the survivor, so use conversations to encourage your friend to seek professional help at a local counseling center.  If she is hesitant to attend, offer to accompany her.

Friends don’t let friends face abuse alone.

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  • This is a hard one. As a counselor, I see the cycle of women who have friends who tell them, leave dude alone! And while we want to support them getting themselves together, we know in the end, it has to be the individual who decides they value themselves enough to move on. It’s frustrating but while friends can support, they can’t stop the situation.

  • Makes me wonder what happened to one of my freshman year roommates whose boyfriend terrified her from a distance. And wonder what would have happened had my other roommate or I just said, “You know him threatening you is not okay, right?”

  • I remember as a young girl my father telling me that no one had a right to lay their hands on me in a violent way. Yet I have witnessed DV in others – my cousin’s husband used to beat her. Even as children we knew it and avoided him like the plague. My grand mother used to beg her to leave him and come live with her. She would not, she clung to the fact that he was her husband for better or worse. Her situation was the catalyst for the conversation I had with my father.

    While on active duty in the Army, I met a wonderful woman – she was white married to a Black soldier. This was her second marriage. She talked about how her first husband started beating her a week after their marriage and continued for two years. The first time it happened she went to her mother who told her it was her fault why he beat her. It got so bad once that she did not recognize herself in the mirror. She called her father who took one look at his daughter and move her and his granddaughter out of the house. His wife, her mother, did not speak to him for 10 years. My friend remarried to a wonderful Black man who cherishes her, his adopted daughter and their son. To this day the grandmother does not speak to him or her grandson. The grand daughter refuses to speak to the grandmother. Domestic violence comes in all shades.

    Another incident involved a male spouse getting beaten up by his wife. He was hospitalized with multiple lacerations, she was jailed for domestic abuse. He never laid a finger on her according to the neighbors who had to intervene. It took four burly military police offices to subdue her. What set her off, he forgot to grab a loaf of bread. She was a beautiful caramel colored girl and one one my soldiers.

    I asked my friend why she waited two years to leave her husband. She said because sometimes you have to get so low that you realize that there is not where to go but up. When he was asked why he did not hit his wife – she was 66 inches tall, he was a a six foot body builder- he said he was taught never to hit a woman. it was not the first time she had laid into him, but he was too embarrassed to report it. “How would it look, a big guy like me reporting my tiny wife for spousal abuse?”

    Domestic violence cuts both way, the statistics on men as victims may be artificially low because of that attitude, many men will not admit to being beaten up by a woman so they hide it.

    Just a few months ago a tipsy woman wanted to drive and her boyfriend took the keys, the disagreement ended up on my front lawn. She took off and walked to the police station where she accused him of hitting her and pushing her out of the parked car. The police knocked on my door. No officer, that is not what happened, There are false reports of domestic violence also.

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