Chiefs murder-suicide highlights need for more conversations about domestic violence

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - The tragic murder-suicide involving Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher and his girlfriend Kasandra Perkins is sparking conversations about domestic violence.

Belcher shot and killed Perkins in their Kansas City, Mo., home Saturday morning before driving to the Chiefs Practice Facility and killing himself in front of coach Romeo Crennel and general manager Scott Pioli.

Kansas City Police said they had never responded to any calls at the couple's home for domestic violence incidents.

Scott Mason is the development director at the Rose Brooks Center, a shelter for abused women and their children.

Mason said this tragedy just tells them that their work in this community is not done.

"Hearing this today is obviously a sad incident, but it makes us realize that we have a lot of work to do," Mason said. "We cannot stop talking about domestic violence. We cannot stop offering support. We cannot stop offering more ways for people to talk about (domestic violence)."

According to the Missouri Highway Patrol's 2011 Crime in Missouri Report, there were 40,613 domestic violence incidents reported. Jackson County reported the most cases with 6,461, and 1,314 of those involved couples who had children together.

The report also shows 71 homicides in Missouri in 2011 were related to domestic violence. In 42.2% of these cases, the victims were either wives or girlfriends.

In Kansas City, the police department has a Lethality Assessment Program that identifies victims who are seriously at-risk of severe injury or death. The victims answer a series of 12 questions, specifically developed for the Lethality Assessment Protocol. Based on how many questions the victims answer with yes, officials will immediately connect them with domestic violence services.

Rose Brooks is one of the agencies that help with this program. Mason said Kansas City Police receive more than 4,000 domestic violence calls a year.

"I know that us alone, at Rose Brooks and our partnership of KCPD through the lethality assessment last year, we received 1,300 hotline calls," Mason said.

Mason said victims often don't feel like they have someone to talk to about their situation. Much of the abuse, he said, happens behind closed doors. Even the best intended statement can hurt a victim further and close them off.

"Saying ‘Oh, he would never do that,' or ‘Oh, that's crazy that you would say he would do that. He's such a nice guy,' or ‘Well you just need to leave,'" said Mason. "There's all this victim blaming, this disbelief. So based on that response, often times, the victim will never disclose again."

Mason said the most critical thing someone can do to support the victim is to believe them -- validate what they say, rather than question.

"Remember you might only get a small snapshot of what that reality is," Mason said. "To just believe and validate them and help them through that process."

Mason also emphasizes that domestic violence can happen many different ways to many different types of people.

"It does not discriminate when it comes to who has to go through domestic violence," said Mason. "That is one of the myths about domestic violence that it is more prevalent in one economic group."

Through community programs and Rose Brooks, Mason said they see women from every economic background. They also show different scars from abuse, it's not just physical.

"The bones heal. The bruises go away, but that constant barrage of verbal and emotional, that stays with them for a lifetime," he said.

Mason said the first step to recovery may be just a phone call away. Trained professionals at Rose Brooks and other domestic violence agencies in the Kansas City area can help victims remove the barriers that may be standing in their way, emotional or physical.

Here are some hotline numbers to call, if you or someone you know needs help.

Rose Brooks Center: 816-861-6100, www.rosebrooks.org

Hope House: 816-461-HOPE www.hopehouse.net

Newhouse Shelter: 816-471-5800, www.newhouseshelter.org

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