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News roundup

Happy Monday. Here’s a brief news round up:

First, some good news! The FBI will be revising their definition of rape at an FBI subcommittee taking place tomorrow, Oct 18.  A few excerpts:

“The public has the right to know about the prevalence of crime and violent crime in our communities, and we know that data drives practices, resources, policies and programs,” said Carol Tracy, executive director of theWomen’s Law Project in Philadelphia, whose office has campaigned to get the F.B.I. to change its definition of sexual assault. “It’s critical that we strive to have accurate information about this.”


The definition of rape used by the F.B.I. — “the carnal knowledge of a female, forcibly and against her will” — was written more than 80 years ago. The yearly report on violent crime, which uses data provided voluntarily by the nation’s 18,000 law enforcement agencies, is widely cited as an indicator of national crime trends.

But that definition, critics say, does not take into account sexual-assault cases that involve anal or oral penetration or penetration with an object, cases where the victims were drugged or under the influence of alcohol or cases with male victims. As a result, many sexual assaults are not counted as rapes in the yearly federal accounting.

“The data that are reported to the public come from this definition, and sadly, it portrays a very, very distorted picture,” said Susan B. Carbon, director of the Office on Violence Against Women, part of the Department of Justice. “It’s the message that we’re sending to victims, and if you don’t fit that very narrow definition, you weren’t a victim and your rape didn’t count.”


In some cases, however, police departments contribute to the problem. The Baltimore Police Department made sweeping changes in the way it dealt with sexual assault after The Baltimore Sun revealed last year that the department had been labeling reports of rape as “unfounded” at a rate five times the national average.

The problem, Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III said, was rooted in the attitudes and lack of understanding of officers toward rape and rape victims.

“We didn’t just suddenly veer off the road and strike a tree — this was a very long process that led to this problem,” Commissioner Bealefeld said.

We’ll try to keep you posted on this subject, as it’s very important in our efforts to end domestic and sexual violence.  We know all too well how flawed our statistics are – generally based only on those who enter the system – and how that in turn shapes funding, programs, outreach, etc.  If they do change the definition of rape I believe we will see a huge influx of reports which hopefully can trigger the awareness that violence against women happens all too often.  Hopefully we can see some progress! If you’re interested in taking action around this issue I urge you to consider contacting the FBI director and attorney general with this easy form to express support for updating the definition of rape. (It’s easy – just fill in the blanks!)

Some more good news out of India:  Being assaulted in New Delhi? There’s an app for that. Excerpts:

One in every four rapes in India occurs in New Delhi, police say, with reports of women being bundled into moving cars and gang-raped before being dumped on roadsides, giving the city an unsavoury reputation as the “rape capital” of the nation. There is one rape every 18 hours, according to police.

The phone app “Fight Back” will be launched in November by a local charity and will function as an SOS alert device — sending out a text message with a GPS location to up to five people, including police, and as a post on Facebook and Twitter.

“Safety for women has become such a huge issue here and we felt that citizens of Delhi, where possibly the problem exists the most, could use this type of technological intervention,” said Hindol Sengupta, co-founder of Whypoll, which created the application.

“Women are harassed and molested everywhere on buses, at metro stations, in markets … we believe this is Asia’s first phone application aimed at making women safer.”


The “Fight Back” app will initially be available to download from the Whypoll website ( for a nominal fee and will be supported by a range of mobile devices such as Nokia and BlackBerry. SOS alerts will cost the same as an SMS.

Sengupta said the app, which is part of the Whypoll’s “Safe in the City” campaign, will also map the SOS alerts to build an accurate database of where and what gender-related crimes occur.

“We have created a platform where women can remain anonymous yet the incident will still be recorded and reflected on a map on our website — which will help us push for action in places where there appears to be increased risks to women,” he said.

Technology is so amazing.  In an area where to come forward as a victim comes with heavy stigma and shame, where you don’t know if the authorities are trustworthy, etc.  (which happens all over the globe, only varying in severity) this is perfect! This is a great example of how the power of people can, at times, make greater strides for safety and equality than the more typical means such as political lobbying and such.  It also seems like a great first step to creating a coordinated community response to violence.

Okay now some not so good news – just some updates on the Topeka, Kansas ordeal :

The result: Domestic battery remains illegal in Topeka, because it’s still illegal under state law–lacking a city ordinance only means that the cases have to be prosecuted by the district attorney, if the district attorney were prosecuting misdemeanors, which he isn’t, so they aren’t. Without a way to charge domestic batterers after they’ve been arrested, all the police can do is hold them for 72 hours until they’re nice and pissed off and then release them–as has happened to 18 people so far. According to NOW’s Karri Ann Rinker, police have confirmed that one man has already re-offended: Within 48 hours of his release, he assaulted his wife again, was arrested again, and was released again.

The aftermath: Ultimately, the county blinked first, and Taylor agreed to do his goddamned job already, saying he would review all misdemeanors sent his way and prosecute, y’know, some of them.

If there’s one thing that’s as trivial and ultimately insignificant as a knockoff poker chip from the Mississippi Belle, it’s battered women, amiright? God forbid you should decriminalize pot-smoking or jaywalking to try and save those extra funds–when people’s lives are at stake, that’s the time for the district attorney to stick his tongue out at the county commission, and for the city to play chicken with the district attorney. It’s just people you’re using as pawns, women and men and children, and arguably the most vulnerable ones under the law’s protection. Nobody important, certainly not when you have a political point to score.

Also, the Kansas Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence responded to the DA saying he will review all misdemeanors:

“KCSDV is pleased to hear that District Attorney Chad Taylor has agreed to restart his prosecution of domestic violence misdemeanors occurring in the Topeka city limits. We remain vigilant, however, as he warns the community about the “consequences” of these recent events.

“We urge all citizens – here in Topeka, across the country and around the world – to learn more about your own community’s local response to domestic violence. We must all hold officials accountable for the components of a complete response to domestic violence that includes fully funded victim services, trained and competent professionals, and quick and appropriate consequences for criminal behavior. Learn more about these critical services or

“The fact remains that for almost five weeks in the City of Topeka, there were no criminal consequences for committing the crime of domestic battery. Whether it is Domestic Violence Awareness Month or not, let’s work together to make sure this never happens again. Budgets should never be balanced on the backs of victims.”

We’ll try to keep you updated as this unfolds – something tells me it isn’t the last we’ve heard of DV in Topeka.

Have a wonderful week everyone.


Topkea, Kansas repeals domestic violence law

Topeka, Kansas has officially made domestic violence legal in a game of financial chicken where the parties at play have little to lose, while survivors’ and future victims’ safety is jeopardized in a major way.  Excerpts:

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.

The Kansas Coalition Against Domestic Violence put out a statement regarding this situation.

The Kansas Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence and the National Network to End Domestic Violence are shocked that the City of Topeka and Shawnee County, Kansas, have decided that the safety of their citizens who are victims of domestic violence is not a priority.


In Cincinnati, Ohio, the city governing body just passed a resolution this week declaring that living free from domestic violence is a basic human right.

This is what prioritizing domestic violence prosecution and safety of victims looks like; not repealing city ordinances, not refusing to prosecute because of budget cuts, not tossing the safety of victims back and forth between city and county governments and prosecutors; not reducing or omitting funding for critical services and responses. This isn’t about budgets it’s about priorities.


For decades, KCSDV and NNEDV have urged state and local governments to prioritize the issue of domestic violence. We are saddened and shocked that during Domestic Violence Awareness Month these local governments have reversed time and turned their backs on victims.


we wrote about this before here

Topeka, Kansas may decriminalize DV

Talk about losing major ground in the movement to end domestic violence.  Council discusses domestic battery prosecution | Excerpts:

The council is expected next week to consider the proposed changes, which would include repealing the part of the code that bans domestic battery.

The city attorney’s office says the repeal would force Taylor, who said Sept. 8 he would no longer prosecute misdemeanors committed in Topeka, including domestic battery, to start prosecuting that crime again.

Dombrowski told the council her mother always told her two wrongs don’t make a right. She said repealing the part of city ordinance banning domestic battery would be “the second wrong” after Taylor stopped prosecuting those crimes.


Mayor Bill Bunten responded that everyone on the council supports punishing those who commit domestic battery.

“The question is who prosecutes them, the municipal court or the district court, and who pays for it, the city or the county or a combination?” Bunten said.

It’s very convoluted.  I appreciated this article from feministing which tried to break down the situation over there in Kansas. Excerpt:

Here’s what happened: Last month, the Shawnee County District Attorney’s office, facing a 10% budget cut, announced that the county would no longer be prosecuting misdemeanors, including domestic violence cases, at the county level. Finding those cases suddenly dumped on the city and lacking resources of their own, the Topeka City Council is now considering repealing the part of the city code that bans domestic battery. The thinking here is that the county won’t let domestic violence go unpunished in Topeka and so will be forced to step in and start prosecuting it again if the city won’t. Basically, it’s a big game of chicken–where the “chicken” is, I suppose, the chump who won’t allow domestic abusers to walk free?

Of course, if you’d somehow gotten the impression that domestic violence is not really all that much of a priority for the county (which stopped prosecuting the cases almost a month ago) or the city (which is seriously considering officially legalizing the crime), think again. On the contrary, everyone involved professes to believe, as the DA’s office said, “that domestic violence is a crime that should be taken seriously and charged.” It’s just that everyone wants someone else to pay for it


But while this clusterfuck is getting sorted out, domestic violence advocates in Topeka say it’s already putting vulnerable people at increased risk. Since the county stopped prosecuting the crimes on September 8th, it has turned back 30 domestic violence cases. Sixteen people have been arrested for misdemeanor domestic battery and then released from the county jail after charges weren’t filed. “Letting abusive partners out of jail with no consequences puts victims in incredibly dangerous positions,” said Becky Dickinson of the YWCA. “The abuser will often become more violent in an attempt to regain control.” The YMCA also said that some survivors associated with their Center for Safety and Empowerment were afraid for their safety if the dispute wasn’t resolved soon.

Scary situation.

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