A Legislative Perspective on the Kentucky General Assembly with State Representative Rick Rand
FRANKFORT – Each fall, the National Census of Domestic Violence Services takes a real-time, 24-hour look at the true impact domestic violence has on our country.
Nearly 90 percent of the United States’ care and prevention programs participate, including Kentucky’s. According to the survey’s latest findings, they provided shelter to more than 36,000 victims on Sept. 13, 2013, the latest year in which information is available, and another 30,000 received non-residential help ranging from counseling to legal advocacy.
In Kentucky, nearly 600 people were housed in our shelters and transitional housing that day and close to 500 sought non-residential help. About 90, however, unfortunately had to be turned away because of lack of space, staff or funding.
With October set aside as National Domestic Violence Awareness Month – and with a domestic-violence case involving an NFL player recently making the news – it is more important than ever to remember that there are tragic stories behind every statistic compiled.
For much of our country’s history, domestic violence was seldom reported, much less prosecuted. Even today, far too many victims are still afraid to step forward, worried what may happen to them or their families.
Over the last 40 years, Kentucky has come a long way in bringing this issue out of the shadows. In 1976, for example, the General Assembly passed legislation requiring people to report any known or suspected cases of adult abuse, neglect or exploitation.
A year later, the YWCA in Louisville opened Kentucky’s first spousal abuse shelter, and by 1985, all 15 area development districts had one.
A year before that happened, the General Assembly created domestic violence orders, or DVOs, which have proven effective at giving victims the space they need while warning the abusers that criminal charges could occur if they violate it.
In 2013, there were about 27,000 requests for DVOs, according to the most recent Kentucky State Police crime report. That’s up from 21,000 requests in 2012, a troubling increase, but these figures can vary considerably from year to year. For example, last year’s requests were about the same as we saw in 1995.
Since that year, the General Assembly has taken a number of steps designed to help victims and hopefully slow if not stop this type of violence. That includes instituting family courts so that cases like these can be better handled in a single setting; cracking down on repeat domestic-violence offenders; and making sure insurance companies do not discriminate against battered victims. We also were the first state in the nation to set up an automated victim-notification system so that those fearing for their safety know the legal status of their offender and whether that person has bought a firearm.
During this year’s legislative session, we provided $500,000 extra over the two-year budget for our domestic violence shelters and set aside the same amount for our rape-crisis centers. We also made it possible for those acquiring DVOs or an emergency protective order to quickly qualify for a temporary concealed carry permit should they feel the need for that protection.
My hope is that, during next year’s legislative session, we can add dating situations to the list of requirements necessary to obtain a DVO, because it is time for Kentucky to join every single other state that offers at least some level of civil protection in these cases. It is unrealistic to expect young women to meet DVO’s current criteria, which include having lived with or been married to the abuser or having a child in common.
Just last month, we got a much clearer picture of the impact dating violence has on our high school students when we learned the results of a five-year initiative conducted by the University of Kentucky’s Center for Research on Violence Against Women and the Kentucky Association of Sexual Assault Programs.
Their “Green Dot” violence-protection program was held in about two dozen high schools and included intervention programs and tens of thousands of surveys. About a third of those questioned reported being victims of dating violence, while a fifth admitted to perpetrating that violence.
The good news is that, in those schools where pro-active programs were held, we saw a steep decrease in dating violence, stalking and harassment. This program shows that there is need to do more in all of our schools to help victims, those at risk and those likely to be abusers.
If you are being abused or know someone who is, don’t hesitate to act. Kentucky’s Cabinet for Health and Family Services has a toll-free hotline to make reports of spousal abuse, which is (800) 544-2022. The National Domestic Violence Hotline, meanwhile, is (800) 799-SAFE (7233).
If you would like to contact me regarding this issue, or any other affecting the state, my address is Room 366B, Capitol Annex, 702 Capitol Avenue, Frankfort KY 40601; or you can email me at Rick.Rand@lrc.ky.gov.
To leave a message for me or for any legislator, call toll-free at 800-372-7181. For those with a hearing impairment, the number is 800-896-0305.
I hope to hear from you soon.