Topeka, Kansas decriminalizes spousal abuse

Jacob Phelps (L) and Daniel Phelps, members of Westboro Baptist Church from Topeka, Kansas, stand in front of the US Supreme Court holding banners October 6, 2010 in Washington,DC (AFP Photo / Kimihiro Hoshino)
Wife-beaters and child abusers have found a safe haven in America’s Midwest. As of today, domestic abuse charges in Topeka, Kansas have been ripped from the local law books as the city tries to pinch pennies to avoid an economic crisis.

On Tuesday night, the city council of Topeka repealed the local law that lists domestic violence as a crime, in turn making any actions that would have previously necessitated police involvement a matter of the state of Kansas, who the council says must rely on the county to enforce the charges. The county district attorney, however, has already stopped prosecuting would-be criminals citing budget shortfalls of their own.

“We had hoped that he would not put that group of victims at risk, that he would find some other way to absorb the cuts,” Shelly Buhler of the Shawnee County Commission tells The New York Times.

"I absolutely do not understand it," Rita Smith, executive director of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, tells McClathcy Newspaper. "It's really outrageous that they're playing with family safety to see who blinks first. People could die while they're waiting to straighten this out."

Sharon Katz off Safehome in nearby Johnson County adds, “There needs to be a higher priority for people who are going to start getting killed.” With the state unwilling to have county prosecutors go after cases in the Topeka area, Katz is concerned that the epidemic could spread through Kansas and elsewhere in the Midwest and America.

Upon the repeal of the law yesterday, around 18 suspects awaiting trials of domestic abuse had those charges dropped and been released back into the public sans trial and sentencing.

“Holding perpetrators of domestic violence accountable is a cornerstone of public health and safety. We urge the local government to fully fund the prosecution of all domestic violence cases today. We cannot afford to wait,” Sue Else of the National Network to End Domestic Violence tells ABC News.

Should the county go back to prosecuting cases on behalf of the city, it would cost around $800,000 a year to hire the staff and rent jail space for only the newest caseload, Councilwoman Karen Hiller says. Dan Stanley, interim city manager of Topeka, says it would cost the city around $1 million to pay for the prosecutions itself.

Throughout the state, the Kansas Bureau of Investigation reports as of 2009 that every 22 seconds a domestic violence incident occurs there. Other cutbacks so far in Kansas have included drawbacks on transportation, education and entitlement programs.