When Did You Stop Beating Your Wife?

Here in the People's Republic of Cambridge, you occasionally see street signs declaring that the city is a "domestic violence-free zone." Those always make me feel a little snarky: Does my city really believe that we've ended coercion, control, and violence between intimate partners and family members? But while I might roll my eyes at this symbolic gesture, I am proud that the city announces that it takes violence against women and children seriously. I remember, as a child, watching the Jackie Gleason show. His character, Ralph Kramden, would regularly threaten his TV wife with a punch that would send her "to the moon, Alice! To the moon!" It's upsetting to glance back at how, once upon a time, that threat was treated as ordinary and even funny. I'll take Cambridge's zero-tolerance policy over that pre-feminist symbolism any day.

Over in Topeka, as you may have heard, the commitment to prosecute intimate partner violence has been in question recently. According to The New York Times, when the county recently cut the district attorney's budget, he said he wasn't going to prosecute misdemeanors committed within the city's borders, which he contends the city should be paying for. So the city council decriminalized domestic violence so that the county would have to pay for those prosecutions. Meanwhile, reports the Times:

Eighteen people have been arrested on domestic violence charges since September and released without charges because no agency is accepting new cases. That has raised concerns among advocates for victims of domestic violence, some of whom gathered Tuesday outside government buildings to express outrage over the gamesmanship.

Bowing to public pressure, the DA changed his tune, in public at least, and has agreed to prosecute abusers. But with what funds? Progressives may love to criticize prosecutorial misconduct -- and rightly so -- but a healthy society relies on the proper use of the criminal-justice machinery just as much as we rely on every other item on Elizabeth Warren's checklist. Governor Brownback's budget doesn't make that easy for local governments.

Here's my peculiar little hope: that the Topeka standoff will put domestic violence up as a critical item for public discussion again. Sure, I'm interested in the strange Iranian plot that has taken over public discussion, but to be honest, not very interested. More Americans are in danger from someone they've dated or from a member of their family than from some foreign agent blowing up a restaurant and stirring up a war. According to the National Center for Victims of Crime, using statistics from the DOJ's Bureau of Justice Statistics:

In 2007, crimes by intimate partners accounted for 23 percent of all violent crimes against females and 3 percent of all violent crimes against males. Of female murder victims in 2008, 35 percent were killed by an intimate partner; 2 percent of male murder victims were killed by an intimate partner.

Has Topeka done us a favor by reminding us that this is a real and ongoing terror threat?

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