TOPEKA — The slayings of Karen, Emily and Lauren Kahler and Dorothy Wight near Burlingame have brought the number of deaths in Kansas related to domestic violence this year to 32 adults and 13 children, said Sandy Barnett, executive director of the Kansas Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence.
"As of right now, with the year not being over, if we have no more (deaths), it would the third-deadliest year of the last 17," Barnett said. "We really don't know why we are having such a deadly year.
"What I would like folks to remember is that each one of those was a person, and that they knew five, 10, 15 or 20 other people. The ripple effect, with 32 adults and 13 children, is that everybody in this state has been touched."
In 2008, 19 adults and 14 children were slain in the state as a result of domestic violence, Barnett said.
In the "Report on Domestic Violence and Rape Statistics in Kansas," the Kansas Bureau of Investigation reports that one domestic violence killing occurred every 19.2 days.
In 2009, there have been 118 homicides in Kansas. Domestic violence represents 26 percent of total adult homicides this year in Kansas.
The Burlingame deaths have thrust domestic violence killings into the media spotlight, but domestic and sexual violence occur all over the state every day, said Eileen Doran, program director of the YWCA Center for Safety and Empowerment.
"There are women who are in relationships who are sexually assaulted every day by an intimate partner, whether it's their husband, boyfriend," she said. "In fact, many domestic violence situations include sexual violence against the victim."
Sexual abuse played a part in the marriage of Karen and Kraig Kahler, said Dan Pingelton, Karen Kahler's divorce attorney in Columbia, Mo. Citing physical and sexual abuse, Karen filed for divorce in January 2009 after 23 years of marriage.
On March 16, Kraig Kahler was arrested on suspicion of third-degree domestic assault, and his wife decided to file for an order of protection. In September, he was asked to resign from his city position in Columbia, Mo.
In a written statement detailing several incidents, Kahler said she was concerned about her husband's behavior. Karen Kahler wrote in documents that "when it came to sex it was easier to comply with his wishes, or he would become 'forceful and mean.' "
Most domestic violence offenders use some type of bodily force against their victims, with the weapon of choice being hands, fists or feet. An incident of domestic violence most often occurs at home, and almost half of all victims receive physical injuries.
The key to reducing domestic violence is to get communities involved, Barnett said.
"We have to figure out how to address it so much earlier," she said. "These horrible tragedies represent the tip of the iceberg.
"The issue really is like an iceberg. Only a little piece of it seems to be visible."