One of my favorite episodes of The Power Puff Girls was when Princess became mayor and made crime legal. The happy metropolis of Townsville was thrown into disarray as criminals and thugs began to rob banks and beat people up with impunity. The Power Puff Girls, always trying to do what is right and save the day, were forced to simply watch as criminals were set free from prison.
I hadn’t thought about that particular episode in years, but it immediately jumped to mind when I heard that Topeka, Kansas has recently decriminalized domestic violence. No, you are not living in some wacky cartoon world. A city in an industrialized, first world nation, that touts itself abroad as the model of democracy, has decriminalized domestic violence. Adding insult to injury, it’s Domestic Violence Awareness month. If only the Power Puff Girls were here.
Apparently budget cuts have been so severe that Topeka can no longer afford to prosecute cases of domestic violence. It is still a crime under state law, but The Associated Press says that, “As of [October 13th], 21 people jailed have been released without facing charges, according to Topeka police.” This is troubling on many, many different levels, so I will focus on two main concerns.
First, since domestic violence is such a huge problem that we can no longer afford to prosecute it, it should now be apparent that this is a societal epidemic. Simply arresting perpetrators is not going to fix the problem in the long term. The Domestic Violence Resource Center states that one in four women has experienced domestic violence in her lifetime. For comparison, the Harvard School of Public Health claims people have a 1 in 6,700 chance of dying in a car crash. Note that it is still illegal to drive without a seat belt in Topeka. I’m not advocating that we ignore driving laws. I’m simply at a loss as to why not wearing a seat belt is considered a more serious offense than beating a spouse. The rates of domestic violence in this country are disturbing, but even more so is the collective apathy that allows it to continue.
Second, as I said, this problem is too big to solve by simply arresting people. Even after an abuser is arrested, survivors often face years of custody battles, stalking, harassment, difficulty supporting themselves, and an unimaginable struggle to heal physically and emotionally. And even if a survivor is totally free from her attacker, this only solves an individual problem. Putting these attackers in jail does little to address the perpetuation of violence against women in our society.
But even though arresting the perpetrators is not enough, it is currently necessary to ensure survivors are safe from further attacks. Think of domestic violence as a deadly infectious disease instead of just a societal one. Simply putting sick people in quarantine is not going to cure it, but that doesn’t mean they should wander free, endangering lives and spreading the sickness.
The Power Puff Girls solved this problem by stealing from the mayor who made crime legal. She realized that a town without laws left her vulnerable to theft and harm, and she would rather be protected than be the mayor of a dangerous city. I’m not at all saying we should march down to Topeka and perpetrate domestic violence on lawmakers (even though it’s technically legal*). But if we as a society do not voice objections to domestic violence, regardless of its legal status, it will not ever get easier (or cheaper) to fix. We live in a society where domestic violence is tolerated. This is everyone’s problem.
*Assaulting lawmakers would not be legal – just drawing a comparison to how ridiculous it is that assaulting one’s spouse is not considered a chargeable offense.