October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and events statewide are helping draw attention to what is often a hidden problem.
In 2017, Kansas law enforcement agencies reported 22,708 domestic violence incidents and 11,356 domestic violence arrests, according to the Kansas Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Combined, 26 domestic violence victim advocacy programs across the state served 77,263 Kansans in 2018 with counseling, shelter, legal advocacy or other services designed to help victims of abuse find safety.
In addition, a network of batterer’s intervention programs certified by the Office of the Kansas Attorney General provide evidence-based counseling to perpetrators of domestic violence.
Unfortunately, more services are needed. In Wichita, a serious lack of shelter beds has led to between 40 and 50 victims being turned away from domestic violence shelters each month due to lack of space. The National Network to End Domestic Violence, which conducts an annual one-day census of domestic violence programs across the United States, reported 93 unmet requests for services in a single day in Kansas last year, mostly housing services. A lack of shelter beds is concerning because victims of domestic violence are at their highest level of risk when trying to leave an abusive relationship.
Making the decision to leave and being unable to find a safe place to go puts victims and their children in extraordinarily dangerous situations — one in four homicides in Kansas were domestic violence-related in 2018.
Batterer’s intervention programs, which work to end violence by changing abusive behavior, are also vitally important. However, funding for their work still varies widely across the state, leading to a lack of enough certified programs that particularly impacts rural areas. Seven of Kansas’ 31 judicial districts do not have a certified batterer’s intervention program serving the area, a service gap impacting 30 counties.
Each community is Kansas is finding unique ways to commemorate the month. In Hays, supporters can purchase purple light bulbs at local businesses to show support using their porch lights. Topekans are participating in a march and rally starting at the Kansas Statehouse with remarks from Gov. Laura Kelly, and a pre-game panel on domestic violence and the NFL.
In Pittsburg, professionals and victim’s advocates are gathering for a series of educational lunch sessions about dynamics of abuse.
These events give Kansans an opportunity to broaden our understanding of intimate partner violence. As a culture, we still have more work to do before we can move away from the victim-blaming that permeated discussions about abuse for centuries. More people now understand how abuse can trap victims in violent relationships. With leaving or staying both posing significant risk, victims must navigate complex systems and make hard choices to find safety. Survivors of abuse may make choices that don’t seem rational to those outside the abusive relationship, further isolating them from friends, family and support systems.
Every Kansan needs to learn more about domestic violence in the hopes that we can do a better job protecting victims.