The Invisible Woman
February 15, 2013
Pop quiz: Who is Kasandra Perkins?
Don’t know? Try this one: Who is Jovan Belcher? Hint: Kansas City Chiefs. Oh, sure, such a tragic story. Young professional athlete gone too soon. Began as a walk-on for the team and worked his way into the starting line-up. Wonderful kid. Great comments about him from his college coach and his coaches and teammates in Kansas. Shot himself in the head right in front of his coach and team owner. Horrible waste of a young life.
And, oh yeah, he murdered his girlfriend. Now do you know who Kasandra Perkins is? Or perhaps I should say was.
I read several articles about this story. Many never even gave Kasandra Perkins a name. She was just Belcher’s live-in girlfriend and mother of their infant child. I also read fifty comments attached to one article. Less than five mentioned her. Far more offered condolences to the Kansas City Chiefs for their loss.
One chapter in my 1994 book was titled “His Wife.” It tells of a walk through Arlington National Cemetery and finding on the back of many tombstones the words, “His Wife.” That’s right. She’s buried behind him with virtually no identity of her own. If you didn’t go out of your way to look, you wouldn’t have even known she was there.
I wondered what she was like, His Wife, and concocted some possibilities about her life. I wonder what Kasandra Perkins was like too. Did she have a family of her own? Did she have a job? Did she love being a mother? Who knows? Who cares? She is apparently not at all germane to this story.
But she is germane to the story about the usually faceless victims of the cancer that is domestic violence.
In the United States, a woman is assaulted or beaten every nine seconds. Domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women. Statistically, more than three women are murdered every day by their husbands or boyfriends. In Michigan in 2009 (the latest statistics available), there were more than 103,000 domestic violence offenses reported to law enforcement, with 125 of those ending in death.
And yet the United States House cannot seem to bring itself to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which first became law in 1994 with an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote. What on earth happened?
Heritage Action, the lobbying arm of the conservative Heritage Foundation, happened and the Family Leadership Council happened. They are understandably worried. There are, after all, provisions in the new VAWA insuring protections for Native Americans and the LGBT Community! Aren’t Native Americans American enough?
Heritage Action is particularly alarmed by language saying that a non-Native man who assaults a Native woman on a reservation will be tried by a tribal court. (86% of Native American women raped on a reservation are victims of non-Native men.) Heritage Action is worried that these men will “lose their constitutional rights to due process…right to a fair trial…right to bear arms….” (Honest, I’m quoting here—they did throw in “right to bear arms.”) They say this even though the act clearly states that these men must be granted their full constitutional protections if tried in a tribal court.
And the Family Leadership Council is worried about the LGBT language. Would it discriminate against groups whose conscience mandates they discriminate against the LGBT community and therefore be denied funds? While the act has standard nondiscrimination language, it does not mean these groups would be denied funds.
One of the most important auxiliary benefits of VAWA is that it has demanded we pay attention to these women, that we know they are there. It forces us to look. It can’t solve all of the problems, but none of them will be solved without legal protections.
The bill has passed in the U.S. Senate with bipartisan support. The U.S. House is another issue. Speaker Boehner and Majority Leader Cantor don’t seem to want to bring it to the floor, even though at least seventeen members of the House Republican Caucus have written to their leaders to ask for a vote, perhaps having read the exit polls from the 2012 election. But Boehner and Cantor only seem to see Heritage Action and the Family Leadership Council.
On the other side, of course, are millions of American women voters who cannot understand why this no-brainer of a bill has become as invisible as the women it is meant to protect.
While I would prefer the House pass the bill just because it’s the right thing to do, if election fears win the day, so be it.
To be blunt, ignoring the bill, and therefore the issue, is an act of domestic violence itself. These women deserve so much more.
Rest in peace, Kasandra.