TOPEKA, KAN. I The district attorney announced he would no longer prosecute misdemeanor cases due to budget cuts. Domestic violence cases comprised approximately half of those cases.
The responsibility to prosecute those cases then fell to the city. In retaliation, the city of Topeka repealed their domestic violence law so they would not have to incur that cost.
As result of the feud, it was reported that 30 people suspected of domestic violence were freed from charges. The district attorney subsequently announced that he would once again prosecute domestic violence cases. As October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month it makes one wonder: What exactly is the cost of domestic violence?
People often wonder why the criminal justice system gets involved in domestic violence cases, especially when the female victim declares that she does not want the case to be prosecuted.
I can tell you as a prosecutor, it is a difficult decision to make. It’s not that we want to get involved in somebody’s personal life. It’s not that we want to force somebody to have to testify against somebody they may love and want to spend the rest of their life with.
It comes down to one reason: Safety.
There is a cost of domestic violence in terms of human life. A 2007 report from the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control estimated that there are annually 16,800 homicides due to domestic violence. One-third of all female homicides are perpetrated by an intimate partner. In 2012, 28 homicides were attributed to domestic violence incidents in Colorado. This is why we get involved.
Typically, a homicide is not the first act of domestic violence between two people. It starts smaller and tends to escalate over time. That is why the criminal justice system initially mandates domestic violence counseling in any case that ends with probation.
The hope is that the counseling will address the underlying cause of the violence before it escalates. The goal is not to destroy relationships, but only ensure that if a relationship with a history of domestic violence is going to move forward it will do so in a safe and peaceful manner for all parties involved.
People are also surprised at the monetary cost of domestic violence. A 2003 study estimated that the annual cost of domestic violence exceeds 5.8 billion dollars nationwide, with $4.1 billion of that being health care costs. The study showed that victims of domestic violence lost 8 million days of work as a result of the abuse they incurred. That’s the equivalent of 32,000 full time jobs. The numbers are staggering.
In the Ninth Judicial District, which includes Rio Blanco, Pitkin and Garfield counties, there were 287 domestic violence cases initiated in 2012, down about 11 percent from 2011. Forty-one of those domestic violence cases, or 14 percent, came from Rio Blanco County. Domestic violence cases made up about 5 percent of the entire caseload.
Some of those cases involved very violent behavior resulting in serious injuries. There were no fatalities.
By prosecuting cases that involved less-serious injuries and addressing the root cause of the problem, it is hoped that we can save lives and reduce the economic impact on our community.
The Ninth Judicial District is lucky in that there is a dedicated force working to combat the problem of domestic violence. Prosecution is only part of that attack.
This community also has a host of advocates, therapists, social workers, law enforcement officers and probation officers who are addressing the needs of domestic violence offenders and their victims on a daily basis.
Despite the number of dedicated volunteers we have to combat domestic violence, the community as a whole must also become involved.
If you know of a relationship that involves domestic violence, let the parties know help is available. If somebody has been hurt, encourage them to contact law enforcement. It is also important to tell the victim about the Rio Blanco Safehouse (970-878-3131) and the support and assistance they can provide.
Explain to them that there is help available for the children and the family to help them get through this. Whatever you do, do not idly stand by. The cost could be too great.
By Scott Turner
Deputy District Attorney
9th Judicial District
Glenwood Springs, Colo.