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.