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UPDATED: Topeka to Battered Spouses: Tough Luck!

UPDATED: Topeka to Battered Spouses: Tough Luck!

TOPEKA, Kan.—Kansas has recently passed laws and taken steps to make it nearly impossible for its state's women to receive abortions, and not much easier for them to find affordable birth control—and now comes the news that the Topeka City Council is considering deep-sixing the part of the city's criminal code that bans "domestic battery." You know, where a husband (or wife, but it's usually the husband) beats his/her partner often within an inch of his/her life.

See, Topeka is part of Shawnee County, and in September, the Shawnee County District Attorney's office announced that, due to a 10 percent budget cut, the county would no longer be prosecuting misdemeanors at the county level—and (trigger warning) guess what "domestic violence" is classified as?

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According to an article on Feministing.com, it seems the city and county are playing a game of "chicken"—with women's lives. Although Topeka Mayor Bill Bunten claimed that everyone on the city council support punishing those who commit domestic battery, "The question is who prosecutes them, the municipal court or the district court, and who pays for it, the city or the county or a combination?" Bunten asked.

In other words, they're only too happy to "let the other guy do it" if it takes away from the funds they would otherwise devote to, say, closing Planned Parenthood and other women's clinics on phony pretenses. So it's about to be a standoff regarding who'll take charge and prosecute these domestic violence offenders.

Unfortunately, real lives are at stake. As Feministing reports, since Sept. 8, when the county stopped prosecuting domestic violence cases, 30 cases have been summarily dismissed, and of the 16 people arrested for misdemeanor domestic battery, all have been released when the county DA refused to file charges—and according to Becky Dickinson of the Topeka YWCA, that puts women in even more danger.

"When an abusive partner is arrested, the victim's danger level increases," Dickinson told the Topeka Capital-Journal. "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."

Dickinson called for an "immediate resolution" to the dispute.

UPDATE: Congratulations, domestic abusers! Shawnee County won't prosecute your spousal battering, and now the city of Topeka has rescinded its law against that form of violence and handed you a "Get Out of Jail Free" card!

According to an article in The New York Times, last night, the Topeka City Council, by a vote of 7-3, repealed its anti-domestic violence law, as councilmembers were told that the action would force County District Attorney Chad Taylor to deal with the misdemeanor cases at the county level—a situation that remains under negotiation between the city and county.

Two more people who had been arrested under the anti-domestic violence law within the past week have been released without charges, and public sentiment for someone, anyone to prosecute such offenders is surging, with battery victim Matthew Agnew telling the Topeka City Council, " It is your responsibility to protect these people, and you’re failing."

"To have public officials pointing fingers while victims of domestic violence are trying to figure out who will protect them is just stunning," said Joyce Grover, executive director of the Kansas Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence.

But as blogger Maya of Feministing.com notes, "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."






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Mark Kernes

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