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Dark Days for Dating Violence Victims in Kentucky

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The sun does not shine so brightly on old Kentucky homes for victims of dating abuse and violence. For the second straight legislative term, a bill that would amend state statutes to extend the right for domestic violence victims to seek protective orders has once again been declined a hearing for consideration by the Republican-controlled State Senate Judiciary Committee. On the other hand, Kentucky's Democratic-majority State House had approved the same bill by an overwhelming margin.

"It's not going to come up this time," said Sen. Tom Jensen (R-London), Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman. "I think there's a lot of mixed feelings about it."

Not surprising for lawmakers from a commonwealth where the state song's second line until 1986, included a reference to "darkies" (then changed to "people").

Jensen said he and other members have concerns about expanding the grounds for protective orders, and believe criminal laws might be a better means of dealing with abusive partners in dating relationships. Opponents of the bill are concerned that judges would have a difficult time determining if, and to what extent, a dating relationship exists and see criminal laws as a better means of dealing with the issue.

Kentucky State Law defines domestic violence and abuse as "physical injury, serious physical injury, sexual abuse, assault, or the infliction of fear of imminent physical injury, serious physical injury, sexual abuse, or assault." Kentucky state laws enable victims of domestic violence and abuse to obtain protection against further violence and abuse, enhance the ability of law enforcement officers to effectively respond to prevent further incidents, and to provide assistance to the victims.

Kentucky Senate Bill (SB) 49, following on House Bill 35 approved unanimously by the House, amends Kentucky State law to add "persons who are or have been in a dating relationship" to the currently protected children of involved family members and unmarried couples. Kentucky SB 49 also adds to State law the definition of "dating relationship" as "romantic or intimate [in] nature, but does not include a casual acquaintanceship or ordinary fraternization in a business or social context." How will the distinction between intimate partners and casual acquaintances be made? SB 49 states: "The existence of a dating relationship shall be determined based on consideration of the length and nature of the relationship and the frequency and type of interaction between the persons involved in the relationship."

Dating violence is a pattern of behavior in which one person uses threats of, or actual physical, sexual, or emotional abuse to control his or her partner. This form of violence can include verbal abuse, written attacks, excessive communication via texts, emails, or phone calls, use of weapons, the destruction of property, stalking, and other forms of intimidation. This form of abuse can be defined as any behavior in a romantic or intimate relationship that is intended to establish an unequal balance of power and control and includes verbal, emotional, psychological, physical, sexual, economic, and social harm to one or both people. Dating violence is any acts committed by one partner against another in a dating or intimate relationship that seek to degrade or injure the other partner and which take away or destroy the aspects of a good, healthy relationship.

Forty-four states and the District of Columbia already have laws on the books allowing dating partners in abusive relationships to seek protective orders. Unmarried women make up half of all intimate partner violence victims, according to the Kentucky Domestic Violence Association. Statistics show that young women ages 16 to 24 years suffer the highest rates of relationship violence.

Ten states received failing grades of "D" and "F" in Break The Cycle's 2010 State Law Report Cards for handling reported teen dating violence and abuse cases. The exclusion of minors from obtaining protective orders earned automatic failing grades for Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Ohio, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah, and Virginia. Minors may obtain protective orders in a few of these states, but State laws do not specify that protective orders can be sought against the abusers of minors. Six states plus the District of Columbia received an "A," leaving 34 states proving barely adequate to support youth victims of dating violence and abuse.

Domestic violence and abuse is not merely a women's issue. Domestic violence is a human rights issue. Everyone should feel safe with the people they love and never fear the person he or she loves. Domestic violence and dating violence does not just affect women. It affects the men who care about them, their families, their friends, their coworkers, and their communities. When 1 in 3 women are affected by domestic violence, it is undeniable that this issue may in fact affect your sister, your daughter, your friend, your coworker, or your neighbor.

Furthermore, there should not be any shame coming forward to get help. People must stop blaming the victim. Critics need to cease from asking "Why doesn't that person leave the relationship?" and instead create accountability, questioning "Why does the abuser continue to get away with the abuse?"

No state, no city, and no community is immune to dating violence and abuse. Dating violence cuts across all ages, ethnicities religions, and socio-economic backgrounds. Teen dating violence is a rising problem in every corner of the country and around the world. It is happening in every high school and in every social clique. Relationships are difficult, especially the first ones in young people's lives. Sometimes it is hard to recognize the boundaries between healthy and abusive interactions. But it is never the victim's fault and we need to continue fighting for stronger laws to protect the rights of victims who experience this abuse.

Please visit www.beckysfund.org for dating violence statistics, signs showing whether you are in an abusive relationship, tips on how to end it, and to take our Dating Pledge.


Freedom from domestic violence. It's our right®

Co-authored by Christopher Argyris, Jeanette Lee and Becky Lee

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