By Jenna Phelps
Assistant Prosecutor, Domestic Violence
Domestic violence and violence-related crimes heavily impact the Kansas City community. According to the Kansas City Missouri Police Department’s Domestic Violence Unit and Kansas City Municipal Court records, the Prosecutor’s office files over 5,000 domestic violence cases yearly. Often these cases involve extreme violence, including incidents that involve weapons, stabbings, and strangulation.
There were 14 domestic violence-related homicides in Jackson County between January 1, 2022, and August 31, 2023. Rose Brooks, a local domestic violence resource that works closely with the City Prosecutor’s Office, received 400 to 600 hotline calls a month pre-pandemic; they now receive 1,000 calls a month regarding domestic violence situations.
According to the CDC, 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men will experience physical violence at the hands of their intimate partner at some point in their lives. Domestic violence also occurs in the LGBTQ+ community. The rate of LGBTQ+ domestic violence is also 1 in 4.
Causes and reasons are wide ranging
Situations involving domestic violence can happen for a variety of reasons. It is often difficult to pinpoint one single incident as the catalyst for a violent relationship. Some of the reasons domestic violence abusers feel the need to control their partner, whether through physical or emotional means, include:
- anger management issues
- low self-esteem
- feeling inferior
- cultural beliefs that they have the right to control their partner
- personality or psychological disorders
- learned behaviors from growing up in a family in which domestic violence was accepted
- childhood abuse
- alcohol and substance abuse, as impaired individuals may be less likely to control their violent impulses
Watch for these red flags
Domestic violence can be physical, sexual, economic, and emotional in nature. There are some common red flags that women can recognize in their partner to help them escape a potentially violent situation before it begins.
- Telling someone they never do anything right
- Extreme jealousy of friends or any time that is spent away from the abusive partner. This can include preventing or discouraging someone from spending time with others—friends, family, or even coworkers
- Insulting, demeaning and shaming
- Preventing someone from making their own decisions, including about work or attending school
- Controlling finances without discussion, taking an individual’s money or refusing to provide money for necessary expenses
- Pressuring someone to perform sexual acts they’re not comfortable with
- Pressuring someone to use drugs and/or alcohol
- Intimidation tactics through threatening looks and/ or actions
- Threatening to harm an individual’s children or pets
- Threatening to harm someone with weapons
- Destroying personal belongings or the home
“Drug court is very therapeutic. Our approach for domestic violence offenses is accountability-oriented,” says Judge Wachal. Judge Wachal presides over a daily domestic violence docket.
RECOGNIZE THE DANGER
Those on the outside looking in might ask, “Why didn’t she just leave?” A better question would be, “How did the person causing harm prevent their partner from leaving?”
Men often kill their partners after lengthy periods of physical abuse. In a multi-state controlled study of 11 cities, 70% of the 307 total lethal violence victims were physically abused prior to their deaths by the same intimate partner who killed them. The majority of victims seen in the healthcare system sought out help at emergency departments or inpatient units for their injuries resulting from domestic violence.
Factors that can make it difficult for a survivor to leave a domestic violence situation include children in common, institutional responses (e.g., clergy and secular counselors trying to save a marriage at all costs); inadequate support for survivors; lack of safe and affordable housing; as well as social and cultural barriers.
Domestic violence often puts partners at increased risk of being a victim of a domestic violence-related homicide. Signs to be aware of are:
- Abusive partner owns a firearm
- Abusive partner is unemployed
- Abusive partner threatening to kill
- Having a child that is not the abusive partner’s
- Survivor believes that the abusive partner is capable of killing her
- Incidents of strangulation
WHAT HAPPENS AFTER CHARGES ARE MADE?
When the KCPD responds to an incident involving domestic violence, often responding officers will investigate and make a determination as to whether the incident should be handled at the state level (Jackson County), or at the City level (Kansas City). If there is reasonable grounds that a domestic violence incident has occurred, the suspect is arrested for that incident at the scene.
If the suspect is not at the scene, the officers will write the suspect a ticket and submit a warrant application to the City Prosecutor’s Office. The warrant is reviewed and signed by a Domestic Violence Prosecutor. The suspect is issued a summons to appear at Court on a specific date and time, or a warrant is issued for their arrest.
After a suspect’s first appearance, they are arraigned on their charges and either apply for a court-appointed lawyer or hire their own attorney. The two Domestic Violence Prosecutors work with the defense attorneys to negotiate plea agreements or will try the case if the Defendant pleads not guilty and the case is set for trial.
Preparing for trial
It is difficult to move forward on cases without survivors’ testimony, especially in situations where there are no other witnesses or evidence. The Domestic Violence Unit (DVU) does everything they can to help make the court process as trauma-free as possible for survivors. Because reliving an incident of domestic violence is traumatic, the DVU staffs three full time witness/victim assistants and has access to community resources like Rose Brooks and New House, who provide a victim advocate to be present with a survivor during the court process and trial proceedings.
What can a victim do to protect themself?
Some protective measures that survivors can take include:
- Engage in a safety plan
- Work with local resources and authorities to ensure their safety
- Work with the Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office and the City Prosecutor’s Office to help hold domestic violence offenders accountable for their actions If you are the victim of domestic violence, call 800-799-7233 or contact one of the community resources listed below. If you feel your life is in danger, call 911.
Local organizations that provide support to women of domestic violence include: Rose Brooks, New House, Hope House, MOCSA, Mattie Rhodes, and Synergy.
More resources can be found on KCPD’s website (www.kcpd.org/crime/victim-resources/domestic-violence/). Not only can these resources help provide immediate respite from domestic violence, they can also provide referrals for shelters and other services.
Jenna Phelps is a Domestic Violence Prosecutor at the City of Kansas City’s Prosecutor’s Office. Prosecutor Phelps is on the board of directors of the Modern Family Alliance, which is an organization aimed at supporting LGBTQ+ families through events, resources, and education.