By Stan Friedman
TOPEKA, KS (October 21, 2011) – Evangelical Covenant Church leaders say recent political gamesmanship that led Topeka, Kansas, to decriminalize domestic violence points to the need for public officials to be held accountable to protect victims as well as to balance the budget.
“It is difficult for me to understand how we can have laws on our books to prevent animal cruelty and prosecute those offenders, but we are willing to obliterate a law that has taken years to pass, without a huge outcry from the public or church, all in the name of saving money,” says Yvonne DeVaughn, director of the Covenant’s Advocacy for Victims of Abuse ministry (AVA).
A standoff between city and county officials occurred when the Shawnee County District Attorney’s office announced that they would no longer prosecute domestic abuse cases in Topeka. District Attorney Chad Taylor said a 10 percent budget cut forced on his office means he will have to lay off 10 to 12 people in his office if it continues to prosecute misdemeanor offenses.
As a result, Shawnee County pushed the prosecution of domestic violence cases off to the city, which is facing its own budget crisis.
After the city’s vote, the county DA’s office did resume criminal prosecutions, but cost issues still may be a factor in how many cases can be prosecuted. Taylor has said the layoffs will be implemented. The City Council approved a resolution for Topeka officials to negotiate a cost-sharing agreement with the county.
DeVaughn notes on her blog that “According to the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, ‘there were 23,864 incidents of domestic battery in Kansas in 2009, an 11 percent increase from the previous year. In Topeka, there were 1,733 incidents, leading to 607 arrests.’”
“We know that domestic violence is a crime that is criminal beyond compare,” says Meagan Gillan, executive minister of the Department of Women Ministries, which oversees AVA. “And when left unchecked, it’s costly. Indeed the cleanup after a domestic violence case can run in the thousands when health care, social services, foster care, rehabilitation, counseling, and other needs are taken into account. It’s estimated that domestic violence costs the U.S. economy between $6 and $13 billion a year.”
Domestic violence cases are categorized as felonies or misdemeanors based on several factors.
DeVaughn and Gillan say it is painfully ironic that the budget fight has occurred this month, which is slated nationally as Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
Gillan noted that Women Ministries continues to work for victims through its AVA ministry.