Look to the sky

Kids' kites used to spread Advocates message Thursday

— Colorful kites will brighten the skies over a small stretch of Lincoln Avenue on Thursday evening.

The kites, decorated by preschoolers in Steamboat Springs, will fly as a reminder that domestic violence leaves no one untouched.

"It's not only the people who are abused that are affected," said Diane Moore, director of Advocates Against Battering and Abuse. "It's going to take all of us in the community to address the issue."

Advocates handed out the kites to area preschools to include some of Steamboat Springs' smallest residents in honoring the victims and survivors of domestic violence.

Mindy Marriott, a preschool teacher at Grandkids Preschool, directed her preschoolers to be creative with their kites.

She told her students that October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month and explained they were decorating the kites to honor people who have died and have lived.

"You can't say anything too complicated," Marriott said. "They're so young, but adults should still take the opportunity to share something about it with them."

It's this awareness about domestic violence among people of all ages that Moore said she hopes to raise at the third annual Walk and Candlelight Vigil on Thursday.

The walk begins at the Steamboat Springs Police Department at 5:30 p.m. and convenes on the courthouse lawn, where victims and survivors alike will be honored.

Moore said she wants the public to know Thursday's event is more than a public service announcement pointing to October as a month to recognize the effects of domestic violence on society.

The recognition cannot stop at the end of the month either, she said.

"Domestic violence is the

No. 1 health issue in society," Moore said. "People don't realize that. It doesn't go away on the first of November."

She said she hopes the theme, "It is Your Business," will register with the community.

Violence continues in homes across the United States, and it affects men, women and children.

But violence also affects people who don't receive the initial physical or emotional blow, and it is those people who must understand its scope and fight its existence in society, she added.

"It's really going to take all of us to make some changes," she said.

Law enforcement agencies' attitudes toward domestic violence have changed in recent years, Steamboat Springs Assistant Police Chief Art Fiebing said.

"In 1985, when I first started working in law enforcement, we looked at it as a family problem," Fiebing said. "We pretty much separated and mediated those kinds of calls."

But that mediating role changed, Fiebing said, when the state called for mandatory arrests of people who showed probable cause for domestic violence.

The order leaves no room for gray area, he added.

"We follow the policy by the letter," he said. "If you commit a crime of domestic violence, you are going to jail. You cannot bond out, so you stay in jail until you see a judge."

New officers receive extensive training before they are allowed to respond to calls involving domestic disputes, he said.

The scene of domestic disputes can be dangerous because offenders are already agitated and may direct their violence toward officers, Fiebing said.

"It's a crummy call to go on," he said. "It's pretty intrusive for cops to go to your house and take away one of your family members."

He said it is unfortunate that calls for help do not come until spouses reach a breaking point and can no longer deal with the violence in their homes.

"The victim doesn't want to call law enforcement because they are afraid of more violence," Fiebing said. "They don't want to open up their lives to scrutiny. It's a difficult situation to be in."

Sergeant Troy McDaniels of the Routt County Sheriff's Office said a response to the scene of a domestic dispute is one of the more emotionally demanding aspects of law enforcement.

The number of domestic violence cases may rise and fall during the year, but the heartbreak that surrounds each case stays the same, he said.

"You want to reach out to these people, and yet you must maintain a certain degree of neutrality," McDaniels said.

Society acknowledges the emotional and physical damage that results from violence in the home, he said, but that acknowledgement must be followed by a response to prevent further violence.

McDaniels said he is hopeful the cycle of violence can be broken in communities across the United States.

Children raised in violent family environments are more likely to adopt violent behavior as they get older, but their present situation should not sentence them to that future fate, he added.

"We can change people's attitudes," McDaniels said. "I'm confident it can happen."

Society's "It's a family secret" view of domestic violence has shifted to intolerance, but its intolerance must be demonstrated in ways that counter the trend of violence, Moore said.

Domestic violence knows no exceptions, she said, for it affects all backgrounds, genders and races.

"One of those myths that is so pervasive in our society is that battered people usually are uneducated or poor," Moore said.

Routt County sees about 300 victims of domestic violence every year, but that figure does not include the number of repeat cases.

Tackling that number will require the commitment of everyone in the community, Moore said, as well as the understanding that blame and avoidance cannot cure hate.

To reach Danie Harrelson call 871-4208

or e-mail dharrelson@steamboatpilot.com

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