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Women's Bodies as Bargaining Chips: Domestic Violence in Topeka, Kansas

Last week, Shawnee County district attorney decided to stop prosecuting misdemeanors – which includes domestic violence cases – and make that a responsibility of individual cities, like Topeka, Kansas. DA Chad Taylor explained away the decision as a matter of resource allocation. But then the Topeka City Board decided it didn’t have the money to prosecute domestic violence, either, and repealed its domestic violence statute – effectively making it impossible to prosecute offenders in the city of Topeka.

According to the Kansas City Star, 30 possible offenders were released in Topeka after what city manager Dan Stanley calls a “cooling off period.” Because no one was being charged with any crimes, all of those accused of domestic violence were free to go.

It should be noted that to his credit, DA Taylor has recognized the seriousness of the situation and has once again agreed to prosecute domestic violence misdemeanors. But that domestic violence charges – nearly 50% of the misdemeanors in Shawnee County – were held as a bargaining chip in a funding battle emphasizes the lack of attention we pay to this incredibly serious crime and completely delegitimizes its physical and psychological wounds.

I’m not going to argue that DA Taylor is wrong to set a priority scale on the types of crimes that should be prosecuted. Resources are limited all over the country. Taylor did choose some of the most important issues to prioritize – the most egregious insults on human autonomy. And felony domestic violence is still being prosecuted.

But domestic violence is a kind of relationship abuse, and far more than just being a physical crime, it is a physical crime perpetrated by the people we love the most, whom we trust, and who claim to love us and trust us and who may really think they do. The National Domestic Violence Hotline defines domestic violence as “a pattern of behavior in any relationship that is used to gain or maintain power and control over an intimate partner.”

Domestic violence is not about people who lose control. Domestic violence doesn’t happen because good men and women “snap.” Domestic violence is a way to maintain control over someone with whom the aggressor is close. Kansas’ mandatory “cooling off period” does not actually address the crime.

Telling women – and it is mostly women who are victims in domestic violence cases – that they are simply bargaining chips in this fight over who gets to spend less money on criminal justice demonstrates a complete lack of sensitivity to women who are routinely hurt by their partners. Slapping a partner once a day may be a misdemeanor every single day, but it is still a way to intimidate, to create fear, and to control.

The city of Topeka has sadly won its bargaining battle by placing the lives of women on the table. Domestic violence cases will be tried – albeit, without many resources – by Shawnee County. I urge Kansas to find more money for Shawnee County and other districts to properly prosecute these cases – even if money must be reallocated from other social programs. Domestic violence is chronic, it is physical, and it is psychological. It will happen again and again until we stop it – and until we stop using women’s bodies as bargaining pieces.

 Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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