Domestic violence has thousands of faces in Kansas, though many are masked by fear, isolation and ignorance.
Former Attorney General Robert Stephan recalls telling an audience that he wished state lawmakers demonstrated as much compassion for women as for abused dogs — to which a man in the audience helpfully remarked that dogs cannot protect themselves, but women can.
Such attitudes are at odds with the facts, including that 48 adults and children died in domestic violence last year in Kansas, constituting more than 25 percent of all murders.
And even when those threatened by domestic violence try to protect themselves, the abuser may beat the system.
That's what happened when Karen Kahler's estranged husband repeatedly defied a protective order last year and allegedly assaulted and harassed her; James Kraig Kahler is now charged with killing his wife, their two teenage daughters and his grandmother-in-law in Burlingame over Thanksgiving weekend.
Or consider Rosa Gomez and the co-worker killed last fall in Salina by her ex-husband, who had flouted a protection order three times.
Or Jennie Jacobsen, stabbed to death in Lyons in November — allegedly by a boyfriend with a protective order against him who was on probation after serving prison time for beating another woman.
In hindsight, the facts of such fatal domestic violence couldn't be more clear. It's harder to recognize the signs and act accordingly before it's too late.
Even Denise Brown managed to miss or disregard what was happening to her sister Nicole Brown Simpson until after she was murdered in 1994 — a crime that led to ex-husband O.J. Simpson's famous trial and miraculous acquittal.
As Denise Brown told a crowd Tuesday at a fundraiser for the Wichita Women's Initiative Network: "We were at these places where the abuse was taking place, and we didn't know it was happening."
As she also said: "Something has to change."
Awareness-raising occasions such as this Kansas Crime Victims' Rights Week and Sexual Assault Awareness Month can help, spreading the word that Kansans in abusive situations should contact law enforcement or call 888-END-ABUSE.
And after a two-year push led by the parents of slain University of Kansas law student and women's studies graduate Jana Mackey, the Legislature recently passed a law to better quantify and track the problem by tagging criminal case files that include elements of domestic violence.
"Frankly, I thought this would be a piece of cake," Stephan said Tuesday, marveling at the effort involved in passing the law as it was signed for a ceremonial second time by Gov. Mark Parkinson.
The advocates of the new law deserve credit for their tenacity. It will take more advocacy, tenacity, vigilance and, inevitably, resources to turn domestic violence into an ugly thing of the past in Kansas.