Amid a dispute between three arms of government over which would be responsible for paying for the prosecutions of those accused of a misdemeanor case of domestic violence, the city of Topeka, Kansas has decriminalized it. The city commissioners believed that by decriminalizing domestic violence, the city would force the district attorney to take on responsibility for the cases as domestic violence remains a crime under state law, “a conclusion with which he [the district attorney] grudgingly agreed.” This comes after the district attorney stated that with a decreased budget he could only focus on felonies and not misdemeanors, meaning that the city had the responsibility to prosecute misdemeanors.
Since negotiation about which agency would be responsible for prosecuting misdemeanor domestic violence cases began in September, eighteen people in Topeka have been arrested on charges of domestic violence and released without charges as no agency was accepting new cases. Becky Dickinson, program director for the Topeka YWCA Center for Safety and Empowerment told the Los Angeles Times that “in an abuse situation…abusers are often the most dangerous after they’ve been arrested. They come home looking for revenge. Needless to say… ‘victims were concerned’ about the budget spat.” Dickinson also said that in the past month she has seen an increase in the number of women needing help at the YWCA since “‘It became a very scary and dangerous time for victims to get law enforcement involved,’…. Dickinson told The [Los Angeles] Times, adding that victims ‘were calling the police and seeing their abusers being arrested but getting released in 48 hours.’”
Now, after a month, finally one arm of the government is responsible for prosecuting domestic violence cases. However, the fact that the city of Topeka decriminalized domestic violence in order to force the district attorney to pay for the cost of holding abusers accountable sends an unconscionable message. Maya at Feministing noted “regardless of how this ultimately gets resolved, the message has already been heard loud and clear: Not one, not two, but three arms of government in Topeka don’t care enough about prosecuting domestic violence to pay for it unless they are absolutely, positively, back-against-the-wall forced to.” Additionally, while there is currently at least one arm of government that said it will now take responsibility for holding abusers accountable, the Los Angeles Times noted, “whether the county prosecutor’s announcement that it is resuming prosecutions will fix the problem remains to be seen; the prosecutor’s office is expected to lay off almost a fifth of its staff by the end of the year.”
This news comes during Domestic Violence Awareness Month and comes as a sobering reminder that while much has been done in the effort to make sure that every abuser is brought to justice and, ultimately, that domestic violence is eradicated entirely, there is still much work to be done. Indeed, President Obama, upon proclaiming October 2011 to be Domestic Violence Awareness Month, said
During Domestic Violence Awareness Month, we recognize the significant achievements we have made in reducing domestic violence in America, and we recommit ourselves to the important work still before us. Despite tremendous progress, an average of three women in America die as a result of domestic violence each day. One in four women and one in thirteen men will experience domestic violence in their lifetime.
To read President Obama’s entire proclamation, click here.