New Kansas contract concerns domestic violence advocates

Some Kansas lawmakers and social service advocates are wondering if promoting abstinence and leading fatherhood initiatives are appropriate missions for agencies that help victims of domestic violence.

Joyce Grover, executive director of the Kansas Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence, said her organization is worried that a new state contract, which also encourages two-parent families, might conflict with the missions of her 29-member organizations.

Grover, whose coalition has held the contract with the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services for about 20 years to provide counseling and services to domestic violence victims, said her group had no input in the new contract’s language.

“It is very concerning that we ... didn’t have a chance to talk to them about how destructive this could be for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault,” Grover told The Topeka Capital-Journal.

“Obviously,” she said, “abstinence-based pregnancy prevention is not going to work with someone who’s being threatened or subjected to reproductive coercion, or sexually assaulted by their partner.”

The newspaper reported that the existing contract with Grover’s coalition pays about $1.5 million a year and expires in June.

After he was appointed, former SRS Secretary Rob Siedlecki voiced his support for marriage, fatherhood initiatives and faith-based social services. He left the Kansas post and moved to Florida earlier this month, but his philosophies are reflected in the new contract.

“The contractor shall administer TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) funds to promote healthy families, parenthood initiatives and pregnancy prevention through abstinence-based program services to encourage the formation of two-parent families within the confines of keeping individuals and families safe, reducing both child abuse and domestic violence,” it reads in part.

Sen. Laura Kelly, a Topeka Democrat, said promotion of abstinence and two-parent families in the context of domestic violence “doesn’t connect well.”

“I’m very concerned that they are including some specifications ... that just flat-out don’t make any sense,” Kelly said.

SRS spokeswoman Angela de Rocha said her agency was clarifying some of the language and will emphasize that pregnancy-prevention aspects of the program are aimed only at unmarried couples.

“None of the language was intended to jeopardize the safety of domestic violence victims,” de Rocha said. “The whole point of the program is to protect those victims.”