Domestic violence isn’t just a family problem, it’s a community problem, and Pittsburg has its share.

Domestic violence isn’t just a family problem, it’s a community problem, and Pittsburg has its share.

“We deal with domestic violence daily,” said Maj. Melanie Schaper of the Pittsburg Police Department. “We’ve dealt with it today.”

She was one of the speakers Thursday night for the annual domestic violence vigil sponsored by the Crisis Resource Center of Southeast Kansas, Inc. It was held in observance of October as Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

“Last year Kansas recorded the highest number of domestic violence fatalities among adults in almost 20  years,” said Vicky Polen, CRC victim advocate. “According to the KBI, 35 adults and 14 children died at the hands of a former partner, relative or household member in 2009.”

Polen added that 2010 doesn’t look much better.

“Preliminary records from the KBI indicate that through August of this year, 20 adults and six children have died in cases defined as domestic violence,” she said.

The average victim is a white female between 20 and 24 years old, and most often the offender is male, white and in his early 20s. Saturdays and Sundays are the most likely days for violence to occur and the hours between midnight and 4 a.m. are the most dangerous.

“For those not well acquainted with domestic violence and the dynamics surrounding these issues, it is somewhat easy for someone to conclude that victims should just pack their bags and leave,” Polen said. “The reality is that a woman’s danger level is at its highest when she makes the decision to leave.”

Sarah Nave, CRC program director, said that women stay in abusive relationships for several reasons, including fear, loss of economic support, even love of the abuser.

“I will no longer have a job when people ask, ‘Why does he hit her?’ instead of ‘Why doesn’t she leave?’,” Nave said.

She also called on men to speak out against domestic violence and spoke of one male group, “A Call to Men,” which is stepping up to the effort.

“Who better to stop this violence than their non-violent brothers?” Nave said.

Schaper said that Kansas is a state that mandates arrest for those who have committed domestic abuse.

“This takes it out of the hands of the victim and onto the police, which is good,” the police officer said. “But we don’t always know who the perpetrator  is. Sometimes we may know in our minds that something happened, but we can’t always prove it so we can make an arrest. We also can’t do anything about emotional or psychological abuse, which can be even more devastating.”

However, Schaper said, police can also provide victims with information and referrals to agencies that can help them, including CRC, which operates shelters for victims of domestic abuse in Pittsburg and Coffeyville.

The vigil concluded with prayer led by Pastor Jim Sukraw and with the lighting of candles representing those who have left abusive situations, those who have not yet found their way out and in memory of the 55 adults and 20 children who have died in Kansas because of domestic violence from January 2009 through August 2010.

“I know that domestic violence cannot be ended in a day,” Nave said, “but wouldn’t today be a good day to start?”