Budget Cuts Make For A Costly Solution

The victims of domestic abuse are not a priority in Topeka, Kansas. Overwhelmed by domestic violence felonies and their associated costs in the midst of budget cuts, the City Council had misguidedly and (in my opinion) irrationally decided to decriminalize domestic violence in an effort to recoup state dollars (September 8, 2011).

Photo courtesy of Daniel Paquet

Then, a few weeks later after receiving significant pressure from the media as well as protestors, the local district attorney's office announced that it would resume prosecuting those in question of committing the crimes.

This entire scenario has turned into what most people are calling a game of chicken. It is an overall shame that decriminalizing domestic violence was ever even an option for the State when it has been reported that "there is currently an item in the Shawnee County budget, for example, that doles out $200,000 for golf course irrigation, which is close to the entire amount that the district attorney is requesting to be able to continue to prosecute misdemeanors." Huffington Post.

Topeka Capitol, photo courtesy of Marion Doss

If golf is equally as important as protecting battered women and their children, then those who are making the ‘big decisions’ need to be looked at. The part I find worrisome is the lack of consideration for long term effects surrounding this sort of crime. Domestic violence is a cycle and its associated cost doesn’t stop in a prison cell (or lack thereof).

There are 16,800 homicides and $2.2 million (medically treated) injuries due to intimate partner violence annually, which costs $37 billion1. This statistic is astonishing; one would think that government funds would be better spent proactively helping victims, their families and abusers who could clearly benefit from some sort of rehabilitation program. Instead the response is to cut costs by shutting down shelters in turn giving victims less alternatives for assistance; the States solution to cutting costs appears to be quite ironic in my opinion. My assumption is that the intangible costs associated to domestic abuse were completely overlooked, for example: irreversible psychological impact, pain and fear and overall impact to future generations and on a larger scale, society. Another less obvious cost to victims is cost of opportunity. Opportunity costs are ‘the costs of opportunities which the participant has lost as a result of being in or leaving the violent relationship. An opportunity cost is the cost of the opportunity forgone when the woman’s options are limited by the circumstances in which she finds herself.’ 2

Image courtesy of Ira Gelb

The City Council deserves a pat on the back for overturning its decision; however the initial action to decriminalize domestic violence already speaks volumes. This decision does not only impact women (because men can also be victims of domestic abuse), but it holds a negative bearing on society in general. This is a question of ethics and you cannot place a price on human rights.

1 The Cost of Violence in the United States. 2007. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Centers for Injury Prevention and Control. Atlanta, GA.

2 KPMG Management Consulting, 1994, p. 23).