- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 29, 2017

The Topeka Capital-Journal, Aug. 25

Alarming signs near K-State suggest threat

Risks of sexual assault on campus are real, not a source of humor

Harmless jokes or examples of a threatening culture of sexual assault?

That’s the key question when examining the off-campus signs seen in Manhattan during Kansas State University’s move-in day last Saturday. One read: “freshman girls drop-off.” The other said: “hope you’re 18!!”

The temptation for those hearing about the signs will be to take the first option. Unfortunately, lived experience suggests the second is closer to the truth.

Manhattan psychologist Sarah Wesch wrote a widely shared Facebook post about the signs. She noted that in her experience with K-State’s Counseling Services, many freshman women reported being raped at the beginning of the school year.

“We know that the first six weeks of college for freshman girls is called the ‘red zone,’ because that’s the time in a college woman’s life that she’s most likely to be sexually assaulted,” Wesch told The Topeka Capital-Journal.

A culture that encourages young men to prey upon young women can’t and shouldn’t be encouraged or sustained. Universities have a role to play. So do the parents and friends of the male students. So do the male students themselves, who have no excuse for making light of such a serious problem.

“But what about the women?” some will ask. Shouldn’t young women learn not to put themselves at risk? Why should they attend parties? Why should they let their guards down?

In a perfect world, there’s no question that college students would be better off focusing on their studies and drinking only coffee and carbonated beverages. In a perfect world, there’s no question there would be fewer campus complications if students didn’t have sex.

The world isn’t perfect, though, and neither are students in their late teens and 20s.

We shouldn’t ask women to take responsibilities and precautions that we aren’t willing to ask men to take. Every female student is someone’s daughter, but every male student is also someone’s son.

“I think that’s that bias we have,” Wesch told The Capital-Journal. “Our anxiety says, ‘Ooh, our daughters could be victims,’ but our anxiety doesn’t say, ‘Ooh, our sons could be perpetrators.’ And I think that bias we really have to get past.”

No single answer exists to eliminating campus sex assaults. Merely removing the banners in question wouldn’t necessarily prevent a particular assault.

All students should take responsibility for themselves and their actions. Law enforcement and the judiciary should take prompt action to hold perpetrators accountable. All of us should be mindful of the messages we send to young men and women, and we should demonstrate respect in our own lives.

Ending rape culture won’t be easy. But it is a moral imperative.


The Wichita Eagle, Aug. 22

Newton killings show cracks in criminal justice system

There are many troubling pieces surrounding the defendant in the killings of Alyssa Runyon and her 4-year-old daughter, Zaylynn Paz.

Runyon’s father, Edward, works in the criminal justice system as a bail bondsman and has perspective on how he thinks the criminal justice system failed and contributed to the deaths.

He points to weaknesses in a system that enables the public to be aware of who registered sex offenders are and where they’re living.

Keith Hawkins, 19, is charged with killing Alyssa Runyon, 24, and her daughter on Aug. 8 in Runyon’s duplex in Newton. Runyon appeared to be strangled, and Zaylynn was found with stab wounds in another bedroom.

Hawkins is a registered sex offender, found guilty as a 12-year-old of aggravated indecent liberties with a 5-year-old girl. He received a year of probation, but a McPherson County judge decided Hawkins would not be on the public portion of the sex-offender registry. The judge had the leeway to keep Hawkins’ name private because he was a juvenile.

Public or not, Hawkins was still required as an adult to register his address and workplace with Harvey County authorities. Reporting by The Eagle’s Tim Potter revealed he hadn’t complied since April, and county prosecutors charged him with a felony in June for failing to register.

Three weeks before the murders, Hawkins didn’t show up for a court hearing on the felony charge. The county attorney’s office, knowing Hawkins was a sex offender whose registration wasn’t updated, didn’t issue a warrant by the time of the killings, citing a backlog of cases and manpower issues.

Edward Runyon thinks the system wasn’t aggressive enough in trying to find Hawkins after he didn’t appear in court. Yet there was still a chance to arrest Hawkins on the failing-to-register charge.

In late June, he was arrested for failing to appear in Newton Municipal Court for a speeding ticket. He spent a few days in jail before being released June 29 on a $1,000 personal recognizance bond.

Municipal Court and District Court are different systems, and Hawkins’ District Court charge evidently wasn’t noticed by the municipal court. But shouldn’t it have been? Shouldn’t a municipal court check on an alleged offender in other court systems at least within the same county? Hawkins had already been charged with felony failure to register as a sex offender, though there was no warrant.

It would be bold to definitively say the murders could have been prevented, yet the timeline shows Hawkins slipped through procedural cracks before his arrest.

State Rep. John Whitmer, R-Wichita, is a member of the House Judiciary Committee and wants legislative action to take the decision of making a juvenile sex offender’s name public out of a judge’s hands. That’s a debate worth having at the state level. Though judges should be trusted to make judgment calls on sentencing, serious juvenile convictions in sex-offender cases should bring an automatic public registration.

Harvey County Attorney David Yoder said there wasn’t anything in the nature of Hawkins’ case that said the public was in immediate danger of a horrible crime. “You can’t go back and look at what ifs,” he said.

No, what ifs don’t bring a mother and daughter back. They do show the flaws that the system has in keeping sex offenders’ whereabouts public and up to date. As a result, Alyssa Runyon never had a chance to know whether Hawkins was a sex offender convicted of indecent liberties with a small girl.


The Kansas City Star, Aug. 26

Editorial: Why did Kansas discard nearly 14,000 ballots in the 2016 election?

On Thursday, Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York urged the White House to disband its misnamed Election Integrity Commission, whose vice chairman is Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach.

Otherwise, Schumer said, he’ll try to block the commission by forcing its demise in an amendment to must-pass legislation, such as an increase in the debt ceiling or a government funding bill.

We’re not big fans of using must-pass bills as trees on which to hang unrelated legislative ornaments. But the senator is right to call for the dismantling of the already-discredited commission.

The effort to verify President Donald Trump’s claim that millions of Americans voted illegally is a waste of time and money.

Instead, Americans should support Schumer’s alternative: public hearings on the status of voting rights.

Perhaps they could start in Texas, where a discriminatory voter ID law was thrown out by the courts just last week.

Then let’s move to North Carolina, where the push for restrictive voter laws was also stopped by the courts.

And by all means let’s take testimony from Kobach in Kansas.

In 2016, Kansas election authorities discarded 13,717 ballots - more than all but six other states, The Associated Press reports.

Kansas rejected more ballots than Florida, which is seven times its size. Missouri, with more than twice the population of Kansas, discarded just 3,803 ballots.

The reason for tossing so many ballots in the trash seems clear: It’s a reflection of Kobach’s relentless campaign to make it harder for Kansans to vote.

“He is on a crusade to stop people from voting,” former Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander said last week.

Kansans should be particularly worried because Kobach is running for governor. Voters will wonder if his anti-voter agenda is aimed at aiding his own candidacy.

Other secretaries of state have supervised their own elections, of course. Such conflicts may be unavoidable.

But the Kansas Legislature should revisit the state’s election machinery when it convenes in January. In the state’s four largest counties, the election commissioner is hand-picked by the secretary of state. In Missouri, large counties have multi-member election boards that supervise balloting.

Kobach’s record is concerning. A new look at the role he plays in how elections are administered is warranted.

In the meantime, Kobach should tell the people of Kansas - and the nation - how he’ll guarantee that every legitimate vote will be counted next year when he’s on the ballot.

Abolishing the White House’s election commission should give him plenty of time to do so.


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