Topeka’s domestic violence debacle puts people at risk


While to many, the consequences for those who commit domestic violence seem obvious, how to deal with these cases and who deals with them has been a matter of contention for decades. Recently, this argument has hit close to home as the Topeka City Council tries to decide which jurisdiction these cases fall under — the city or the county — and is decriminalizing the offense and setting free alleged offenders in the meantime.

According to an Oct. 4 Topeka Capital-Journal article by Tim Hrenchir, Mayor Bill Bunten stated that the question is not if these things will be punished but “who prosecutes them, the municipal court or the district court, and who pays for it, the city or the county or a combination.” But where does that leave victims and families while these issues are decided?

This turmoil began on Sept. 8 when District Attorney Chad Taylor announced “that his office would no longer prosecute misdemeanors, including domestic violence” due to lack of resources, according to a Sept. 14 Topeka Capital-Journal article by Tim Hrenchir and Angela Deines. The article makes it clear that alleged offenders released aren’t necessarily off the hook, but will be tried at a later date. This leaves these alleged offenders to return home, to the scene where they were accused of perpetrating violence, with no clear consequences. What is to stop them from doing it again? Or doing something far worse than what got them thrown in jail the first time, when they know — or at least think they know — they can walk away scot-free?

According to the KBI, law enforcement in Kansas made one domestic violence arrest every 41 minutes and 48 seconds in 2009. Of the 22,873 victims, 68 percent were women, and 72 percent of the perpetrators were men. As Topeka is the fourth largest city in Kansas, the number of people that could potentially walk free to do more damage in this current situation is not something to ignore. And, with the release of 30-plus alleged offenders since the original announcement, it is unlikely that any further violence will be reported.

“When an abusive partner is arrested, the victim’s danger level increases,” said Becky Dickinson of the YWCA Center for Safety and Empowerment. “The abuser will often become more violent in an attempt to regain control,” according to an Oct. 4 Topeka Capital-Journal article by Angela Deines.

In many situations, it takes people years to even make the initial phone call to report domestic violence. If they finally get the courage, report it, and the perpetrator is released and further violence is inflicted, why would anyone report again? They tried it once and it led to worse consequences. The system has ultimately failed these people.

Decriminalizing issues like domestic violence gives institutionally-supported power to those in dominant positions. Even though Bunten told Hrenchir that “everyone on the council supports punishing those who commit domestic battery,” the actions of the past month show otherwise. The feelings of those on the council are not helping the victims who are being put back into dangerous situations because of monetary issues.

Maybe the people making these decisions should donate part of their salaries to getting these cases processed — I have a feeling the decision would be made much faster. The phrase “actions speak louder than words” has multiple levels of meaning in this instance, and if someone doesn’t start taking action, those affected by domestic violence may not have the chance for their words to be heard.