Friday, 7 October 2011

Who Needs the 'Rule of Thumb'?

Amidst the usual protocol of the next fortnight's spending expenditure, consent agenda and whether new items should be added to council meeting agenda, Shawnee County District council in Topeka, Kansas, slipped in a proposal which would seem extraordinarily forgiving even to husbands of seventeenth century England; that the County District Attorney's Office would no longer prosecute those who are accused of counts of domestic violence. In a motion which was supported 7-0 by all council members, they have outraged and intimidated in fairly equal measure the people of Shawnee.

Originally proposed by County District Attorney Chad Taylor, who said he would no longer prosecute these crimes of private physical and psychological intimidation, under the belief that it would save the DA's budget 10% by 2012; Taylor quite literally has put a price on the impact of domestic violence upon its victims, primarily which are women. Believing that these cases should be under the jurisdiction of city, not county prosecution, the council followed suit by voting against proposals that they should prosecute, hoping to play Taylor's hand by placing the onus to revert back in the County's offices. The squabbling of both governing bodies left no legal support for the victims of domestic abuse, despite the crime contravening acts 3, and 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which the US voted in favour of. This deeply misogynistic and archaic proposal, also comes with perfect timing, a celebratory start to October, also known as Domestic Violence Awareness Month. As Karen Ann Rinker, state coordinator for the National Organization for Women pointed out:

'...the people who are caught in the middle of this blame game and finger pointing are the women of Topeka. These women are the only ones who remain truly blameless.'

Chad Taylor. You shouldn't judge a person upon their appearance, but are you honestly surprised? Oh, and fun fact, one of his dogs is called 'Reagan'.

The move which was first proposed on September 8th has had immediate consequences for victims and attackers alike, after Police Captain Brian Desch revealed that since the 8th, all 18 domestic violence battery arrests that had been made had been released after they could no longer be prosecuted. Where one could see the move simply as wife beaters being allowed to continue their ways without reproach, (domestic violence has the highest rate of repeat victimisation of any crime, Women and the Criminal Justice System: The Facts, Fawcett Society, 2008) which is abhorrent enough, there is of course, a more sinister side to the change in law. Intimate partner violence - or IPV - like most behaviours of intimidation and control towards women, is a precursor to more serious incidents, so left unpunished, it is likely that Taylor will soon see an increase in the number of homicides appearing in his courts. (Women's Aid).

IPV, as Kate Banyard argues in the brilliant The Equality Illusion, The Truth About Men and Women Today,(Faber & Faber, 2010) is:

'at its heart... an ongoing system of control... various 'types' of violence are deployed in it, including physical, sexual, emotional and financial. When abusive partners start sensing a lessening of their control, they often attempt to reaffirm their grip. Thirty percent of domestic violence cases start when the woman becomes pregnant, and correspondingly murder is the leading cause of death for pregnant women in the US.'

In the UK alone, 1 in 4 women will experience IPV at some point in her life, 'with two women murdered each week as a direct result'. ('Domestic Violence: Frequently Asked Questions' Factsheet, 2009) This rate is even higher in the USA, with 1 in 3 women on average experiencing IPV at some point in their life (Brown, A, Violence Against Women by Male Partners 'American Psychologist Journal', 1993, 43, 1077-87), and is also likely to be repeated. In cases of male-to-female IPV it is far more likely to result in death, either as a result of escalation, or retaliation. (Dobash & Dobash, Bachman, Salzman, Sorenson) Indeed, it's not just cases of homicide against abused women that Taylor should expect to see an increase in; as women who do become violent or kill their partner, are significantly more likely to be responding to violence perpetrated against them (Lundberg-Love, P.K, Marmion, S, Intimate Violence Against Women: When Spouses, Partners, or Lovers Attack, Praeger, 2006), violence of which they now have no legal protection from.

Where my judgement of this baffling turn of events is as a heinous contravention of human rights, an abandonment of any concern for the women, families and communities of Shawnee, and as a message that macro economics is more important that any micro sociological and psychological impact, (64% of female victims of IPV test positive for PTSD - Banyard) his argument makes no sense. In an interesting report by Matt DeLisi, editior of the Journal of Criminal Justice, he calculated in Murder by Numbers (Routledge, August 2010, Vol.21, No. 4) that the average cost of a homicide tops $17.2m, which, if, rather morbidly - and may I say that I certainly hope that this does not happen - that even half of the 18 IPV offenders released since the 8th result in a homicide after Shawnee failed to offer them adequate legal protection, then Taylor could be facing $154.8m worth of legal costs as a result of badly misjudging these even early cases; assuming none of these cases have even more remarkable aspects to the cases (a multiple murderer in DeLisi's report drew costs of between $150 -160m). Considering Taylor could only hope with his budget cuts to save by 2012 less than half a million dollars, this is surely pathetic economic sense even when someone sick enough to call his dog 'Reagan' refuses to acknowledge a greater, transcendent value of promising your jurisdiction protection from intimidation and coercive control.

The Council will announce its reviewed position on Tuesday, as to whether it will continue with its plans, sending a local, national, and global message of the importance of Womens' rights, and the rights of any person whose human rights are challenged against ludicrous economic policy. I pray that no other county or country follow suit.


  1. The situation is resolved now, which is nice to see! Beyond these childish, misogynistic games though, the underlying cause is that the justice system is woefully underfunded, and it's likely Taylor will have to make staff redundant. Not saying that excuses his prioritisation of crimes, which stinks, but he should never have been put in this situation.

    I found it difficult to follow your description of the facts though, and didn't really understand until I looked elsewhere. Two reasons: a typo calling Taylor the 'Council District Attorney', which was confusing when the issue is about Taylor (county) against the council (city); and the passage 'Believing that these cases should be under the jurisdiction of city, not county prosecution, the council followed suit' - surely the other way round? The city council were trying to kick the issue back to the county.

    I'm not detracting from the article, which is a welcome piece of analysis on this important issue, but it doesn't do the best job of briefing the reader who is, as I was, ignorant of this particular political dispute in a faraway land.

    One more thing too - the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is non-binding, but there's no need to look so far afield - the state of Kansas has laws banning battery and assault, and on that basis alone the actions of Taylor and the city council can be sufficiently criticised.

    Love the blog though - just found it and I will continue to follow! Keep up the good work.

  2. Thank you James for your feedback - I tend to write these posts in the space of a few hours so sometimes editorial glitches go unnoticed - particularly since it's very rare that people leave comments!

    I think the county/council error was simply typographical, Taylor's full title is 'Shawnee County District Attorney' who had major arguments with the council - if you noticed in the first paragraph, I did refer to the 'County District Attorney's Office', but nevertheless I appreciate this may have been confusing, and so I will make those amendments now.

    As for clarity - I believe I could have phrased that particular sentence more clearly - what I meant to express was that the council, having received Taylor's intent, wished to 'play his hand' by doing the same, 'following suit' by saying that the city doesn't want to deal with it either, in the hope that the onus would then be on Taylor, I will try and make an amendment then to make it clearer - but the point I was (attempting) to make was the same as your own.

    Like you, I'm not a resident of Shawnee, neither am I a law grad, so I don't have a technical background of understanding how law making in America works, other than through what I have read, so apologies if you felt it fell down on that count. I cite the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as I feel that the issue is primarily of moral and ideological concern to me, my criticism doesn't come from the side of again, legal process (although your point is valid) but rather than I felt Shawnee were making a very profound statement as to the value they place on the safety of their women, their people, and their stance on how seriously they regard physical threat to both of these. I therefore used the UDHR because I wished to widen the scope of my point - that as part of the international community they ought to be ashamed, and attempt to uphold the principles of UDHR as such.

    Thank you for reading my blog however, and I'm glad you find it of interest - just remember I'm the only writer for this, so it's not always going to be newspaper quality I'm afraid!