Last week, it came to light that a prominent Wisconsin prosecutor was at the center of a sexual harassment scandal. A domestic violence victim said that District Attorney Ken Kratz made personal advances towards her through inappropriate text messages. Police documents show dozens of messages that were sent last year while Kratz was prosecuting the woman’s ex-boyfriend’s case. Some of the texts are as follows: “Are you the kind of girl that likes secret contact with an older married elected DA…the riskier the better?” “You are beautiful and would make a great partner some day.” A third text refers to the woman as a “tall, young, hot nymph.”
Emails from November 2009 between Kratz and the Wisconsin Department of Justice show Kratz denied wrong-doing for weeks. Despite being the chairman of the Wisconsin Crime Victims Rights Board and despite the fact that he sent over 30 of these inappropriate text messages, he still claims that he did not violate the law or any rules of professional misconduct. What planet is this guy on? Does he think that just because these messages were sent via text that they can’t be construed as sexual harassment?
As a society, we often question why battered women stay in their relationships. From the outside, it’s easy to ask why they don’t leave or take action to improve their situation. Do we need a clearer example than this? The victim thought she was on her way to freedom by taking a stand against her abuser, and yet she was unable to escape the cycle of abuse this time on a much grander scale. Like the abuser, Kratz used his position over the victim to intimidate her and coerce her into submission. In one of his text messages, he indicated that the prosecution of her ex-boyfriend’s case would take a long time and could be dismissed at any moment. If she ignores the DA’s passes, she risks him dropping the charges, thus putting her in back in danger. This parallels exactly what she went through in her relationship. Again, she faces it.
Leaving an abusive situation is hard enough, and victims need as much support as they can get. They often look to people in positions of authority and power as people they can trust, as people who can help them rebuild their lives. When that trust is broken and they have been betrayed by the very people they go for to help, where else are they supposed to go? There is now an increasing concern that victims will be reluctant, even more than they already were, to come forward because of legitimate concerns regarding how they’ll be treated and whether they’ll be taken seriously.
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The decision has just been made that Ken Kratz will step down from his District Attorney position. Unfortunately, his resignation will not automatically repair the damage he has caused to victims’ trust and confidence in the legal system. As someone in a position of authority, it was his job to treat crime victims with dignity and respect and yet he doesn’t believe he crossed a line. (But he did.) He betrayed the very woman he was supposed to be helping to protect. It is critical that victims in our communities know that there are good people that want to help them.
How can we, as a society, make sure that the abusive and inappropriate behavior of this one man won’t prevent victims from coming forward and receiving the help and support they deserve?