After Topeka, Kan. incited a national scandal by repealing the city ordinance outlawing domestic violence, it finally seems there may be some resolution that will provide relief for victims of domestic abusers who depend on the criminal justice system to keep them safe. The interim city manager and the district attorney have agreed to split up the domestic violence cases to make sure that they’re being prosecuted while budget decisions are being hammered out. This is drastic improvement, considering that dozens of cases were going unprosecuted just a few days ago, leaving the victims vulnerable to the abusers who had been allowed to return home.
The reason that things even got to the point of dropping domestic violence cases was due to economic concerns. It all started when District Attorney Chad Taylor announced that he would stop prosecuting misdemeanor domestic violence cases, because his office no longer had the money to prosecute any misdemeanors. The city of Topeka reacted by repealing the law banning domestic violence, which means they also would have no authority to prosecute these cases. The hope was that by doing so, they could force Taylor to renege on the plan. Instead, it seems to have provoked a stand-off, which was finally resolved yesterday.
The whole incident drew attention because, regardless of the intentions of the players in this battle, it provoked growing concerns that we, as a nation, are backsliding when it comes to taking violence against women seriously enough. Using domestic violence as a political football during a budget dispute just doesn’t look good, especially in a year when a number of prominent rape cases have ended with widespread suspicion that the victims didn’t get justice. More than with other crimes, rape and domestic violence rates are strongly influenced by the sense of public disapproval; many men who want to rape or beat women adjust their behavior depending on how much they think they’ll get away with. If the criminal justice system sends signals of not taking violence against women seriously, men who wish to commit it are inclinded to see that as permission.