Thursday, October 13, 2011

Domestic violence no longer a crime in Topeka



Ironic, isn't it? Photo by Xoe Craft
By JONATHAN WOLFMAN
Kansas has always had three resonances for me:
  • The old saw, Kansas Is Flat As A Pancake (flatter, really – university topographers proved it in ’03),
  • Dorothy (“and your little dog, too”), and for
  • Arguably the most defining civil rights case of my lifetime, the landmark 1954 Topeka school integration case, Brown v. Board of Education.
Now Kansas has one more claim on me. Perhaps on you, too.
The Topeka City Council, stemming from what began as a typical budget discussion, has decided in its wisdom, by a 7-3 vote, to decriminalize domestic violence in order to save taxpayers some money.
For some time there had been wrangling over who should pay for what goes into taking domestic violence calls, who should respond, who should prosecute. Surrounding Shawnee County said Topeka should pay; Topeka has been saying the county oughta cough up the pancake dough. Stuck in the cruel middle, of course, are all the abused women of both jurisdictions.
The rather insane vote came this week. The law that makes domestic violence a crime has been repealed.
Some Topekans think the city council’s vote will force county prosecutors to step up to the pancake plate. So far, they’ve whiffed. Since the wrangling began in September, 18 people have been arrested for domestic violence and promptly released. No charges have been filed. (Last year over 400 such cases came to official attention in the county.)
To say the least, domestic violence victims’ advocates in The Pancake State have expressed the outrage. I’m betting some of you reading this are feeling putrage now.
The New York Times quotes Joyce Grover, executive director of the Kansas Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence as saying, “To have public officials point fingers while victims are trying to figure out who will protect them is … stunning.” (You can fill-in an appropriate adverb.)
The Times report goes on to say that “Becky Dickinson, a program director with the YWCA, which is the primary provider of services for victims of domestic violence in the county, said there was concern that the lack of charges for those being arrested for … domestic violence … would encourage retaliation.” You think?
While the Topeka City Council and Shawnee County officials continue to point fingers at one another for this disgrace, women continue to be harmed without formal recourse. Perhaps the city and county will reconcile their budget fight by forcing domestic violence victims to pay for police and prosecutors out-of-pocket. Perhaps all the women there will sign up for ju-jitsu, earn black belts overnight and buy more guns. Or, perhaps women there will have to wait for a Dorothy Gale twister to blow these benighted public servants straight to hell.

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