Events will shine light on domestic violence
BY STAN FINGER
The Wichita Eagle
They have been thrust into the spotlight by the violent deaths of family members more than a decade apart.
Now Denise Brown and Curt and Christie Brungardt will meet in Wichita for events intended to raise awareness about the prevalence and dangers of domestic violence.
Brown became a national speaker about domestic violence in the years since her sister, Nicole Brown Simpson, was found murdered in Los Angeles in 1994.
The Brungardts have made speaking out against domestic violence a focal point of their lives since their daughter, Jana Mackey, was murdered in her ex-boyfriend's apartment in Lawrence in July 2008.
Their appearances are part of a fundraiser for the Wichita Women's Initiative Network, a nonprofit organization that provides female survivors of domestic abuse with educational and employment opportunities.
"I'm excited that people are going to be able to have some awareness and learn about resources in the community," WIN director Kelley Graham said. "Most people in Wichita have not heard about the work that we do and the people that we serve."
Brown will appear at a VIP reception at 6:30 p.m. Monday at Hotel at Old Town and a luncheon at noon Tuesday at the Wichita Marriott. She will speak at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Wichita State University Hughes Metropolitan Complex.
The Brungardts will be at the VIP reception Monday night, then head to Topeka Tuesday to witness Gov. Parkinson sign into law legislation they helped spearhead.
When it goes into effect on July 1, 2011, it will clarify diversion, assessment and intervention issues, said Sandy Barnett, executive director of the Kansas Coalition Against Sexual & Domestic Violence.
"It will help close the gap on information available to prosecutors and courts when addressing criminal cases," Barnett said.
Currently, she said, law enforcement, courts and prosecutors may have information on a defendant's criminal history, but it does not state whether those incidents were committed in the context of domestic violence.
The law also requires law enforcement officers to consider defense of a person or property when determining whether to arrest a person for domestic violence.
That's an important component, Graham said, because several women told her they were arrested when they were simply defending themselves against their attackers.
Everyone is vulnerable
The Brungardts will bring a simple message to the event: Domestic violence can harm or kill anyone.
Professors who taught classes she was in at the University of Kansas have told the Brungardts just that: "If Jana Mackey can be a victim of domestic violence, all of us are vulnerable."
Mackey, 25, was an ardent advocate for women's rights, according to the website Jana's Campaign to Stop Domestic Violence. She spent years volunteering to aid victims of sexual assault and domestic violence.
She received her bachelor's degree in women's studies from KU and participated in KU's Commission on the Status of Women. The university has created the "Jana Mackey Distinguished Lecture Series" in her honor.
Mackey had recently ended a relationship with Adolfo Garcia-Nunez, a 46-year-old artist who went by the name Fito Garche. He was arrested in New Jersey after Mackey was found dead in his apartment and he committed suicide while in custody.
"They had dated for nearly a year," Christie Brungardt said. "We don't believe there had been on-going violence between them."
Mackey was reported missing before her body was found.
"When we were looking for her, I wasn't thinking about him," Brungardt said. "Maybe I'm just naive. I didn't notice anything out of the ordinary."
'A national epidemic'
Education is the core of the Brungardts' message to others.
"The message we are trying to convey is, you need to be learning about this now," she said. "We need to be having a much larger and broader discussion."
And those discussions need to start when children are young. Teen dating violence has become "a national epidemic," Brungardt said.
One in three women will be the victim of abuse during their lifetime, statistics show, and domestic violence is the leading cause of injury for women between the ages of 15 and 44.
"We're going to have to get behind that like we have drunk-driving laws, seat belts, water conservation," Brungardt said.
Last year tied for the second-deadliest year for homicides linked to domestic violence in Kansas in the past 18 years, Barnett said. Forty-eight adults and children were murdered as a result of domestic violence — more than one-fourth of the state's homicide total.
Since 1992, Kansas has averaged 22 domestic violence-related adult homicides a year, according to the Kansas Bureau of Investigation.
"We're way higher in terms of incidents and fatalities than we should be," Brungardt said.
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