A scene of domestic violence, portrayed for a public service announcement. The man stands over the cowering woman. Her eye is blackened, his fist is clenched.
Courts in Topeka, Kan., are not currently prosecuting misdemeanor domestic violence cases. (Photo Credit: CC BY/publik15/Flickr)

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, but in cash-strapped Topeka, Kan., victims of domestic battery are wondering if anyone is paying attention. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that the city is not prosecuting domestic battery cases because they’re too expensive, and the Shawnee County District Attorney has decreed it will not prosecute Topeka misdemeanors due to budget cuts. Abusers may be let off the hook.

Abuser, heal thyself

Trusting abusers to rehabilitate themselves appears to be the path Topeka, Kan., city officials are taking. City and county officials don’t seem to be doing much else. From the Capital-Journal:

“In August, the Shawnee County Commission cut [Shawnee County District Attorney Chad] Taylor’s 2012 budget by 10 percent, or $347,765, from its 2011 budget of $3,477,651. In the meantime, police spokeswoman Kristen Veverka confirmed that 16 people have been arrested on suspicion of misdemeanor domestic battery since Sept. 8 but were released from the Shawnee County Jail after charges weren’t filed.”

Joyce Martin, CEO of the Topeka YWCA, has sounded an alarm bell.

“The ongoing concern regarding the Shawnee County district attorney’s office prosecution of misdemeanor cases, particularly domestic battery, must be resolved in the interests of victim safety,” she wrote in a public statement. “The organization believes that some of the most vulnerable members of our community have been placed in danger.”

Following community protocols

In 2009, the YWCA worked with the Topeka district attorney’s office, police department, Shawnee County sheriff and the Third District Court Services to install “community protocols” for responding to and prosecuting domestic violence cases. According to Martin, when Topeka District Attorney Chad Taylor signed in support of these protocols, he agreed he would “aggressively prosecute domestic violence,” “review domestic violence cases as first priority” and “charge the cases that meet sufficient evidence to prosecute the case.”

Now officials fear these protocols will be all but abandoned as budget austerity looms.

“When an abusive partner is arrested, the victim’s danger level increases,” said Becky Dickinson, interim director of the YWCA Center for Safety and Empowerment. “The abuser will often become more violent in an attempt to regain control. Letting abusive partners out of jail with no consequences puts victims in incredibly dangerous positions.”

Prosecution: The responsibility of local authorities

According to Jeff Wagaman, spokesman for Kansas’ attorney general, Kansas law dictates that local authorities must bear the responsibility of prosecuting misdemeanor domestic abuse cases. With the budget-imposed deadlock in place, however, it remains unclear what will happen to city residents in danger of escalating incidents domestic violence.

“We hope this dispute is quickly resolved in the best interest of public safety,” said Wagaman.

Kansas’ legal battle over domestic abuse

Sources

Domestic Violence Awareness Month: http://www.ncadv.org/takeaction/DomesticViolenceAwarenessMonth.php

Gawker: http://gawker.com/5847619/enjoy-hitting-your-spouse-move-to-topeka

Think Progress: http://bit.ly/oJAg2M

Topeka Capital-Journal: http://bit.ly/nyGXmK

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