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November 17th, 2014
07:11 PM ET

Ex-fiancée of NFL player, a domestic abuse survivor tells her story

(CNN) – The story of Kristen Lennon and her former fiance Phillip Merling, an NFL player then with the Miami Dolphins, reveals not only questions about how the National Football League treats domestic violence incidents, but also how the police handle the cases.

Lennon first shared her story with The New York Times. In her first television interview, an emotional Lennon tells CNN the league knew of the domestic abuse, and failed to respond.

"What he needed was not necessarily jail time," Lennon said. "Seriously, he needed psychological help. That's the best thing that they could have did for me, was to give him help."

Merling was arrested in 2010 for hitting Lennon – was two months pregnant at the time – in the head and face. He was booked and charged, then released, and later driven by a police commander to the Dolphins training complex. The police commander then drove Merling home, even though a judge had ordered Merling to stay away from Lennon, according to The New York Times.

As for Lennon, she had already packed up all her belongings in six hours, saying she didn't believe she would be safe when he returned.

"I had to take matters into my own hands, and get out of Florida as soon as possible," Lennon said.

The Broward Sheriff's Office defended its handling of the case in a statement to CNN.

"The actions of the deputy had no bearing on the domestic violence case," the statement read. "More than three years ago, the deputy was investigated for violating agency policy, and he was disciplined. BSO does not condone preferential treatment of public figures."

But at the time, Merling was given preferential treatment at nearly every step. The police, who were supposed to be protecting the victim, appeared instead to be favoring the abuser.

"I believe these things happen all the time. I just don't think that they should give special privileges to people just because of celebrity status," said Lennon.

The emotional abuse continues to this day. Lennon says Merling still sends harassing text messages and phone calls, which makes her decision to come forward particularly brave. But she doesn't see it that way.

"It wasn't brave. It was - I just didn't have no other choice. I wasn't going to let my children grow up in anything like that. It was my only choice," she said.

For our full interview with Kristen Lennon, watch the video below.

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