It’s Time to Protect Young Victims Where Protections Don’t Exist

Blueprint logoDid you know the Clarkson Honeyfest is Kentucky’s official state honey festival? Or that it is illegal to release a hog or pig into the wild? With the breadth of issues covered under Kentucky law, it can be surprising to hear some of the critical issues left unaddressed. Last week Friday, members of the Interim Joint Committee on Judiciary heard about one such gap. Current Kentucky law provides no protective order option for victims of dating violence, stalking, or sexual assault.

The story of Mary Byron – who was murdered at age 21 by her ex-boyfriend – underscores the need for protections for people in dating relationships. As Marcia Roth with the Mary Byron Project explained during the hearing, Mary didn’t have the option of seeking a protective order, because she had not been married to her ex, lived with him, or had a child with him. Those are the criteria under current law to be able to get a protective order. While we will never know what would have happened, the protections being proposed would have allowed her to seek a protective order.

Representative John Tilley, who has sponsored legislation on this issue in past years, and Senator Whitney Westerfield spoke on the need to close the gap in protective order coverage for people who have experienced such violence: First, young people ages 16-19 and even up to age 25 are especially vulnerable to this type of violence. Second, Kentucky is the last place in the nation without immediate protections through protective orders for people in dating relationships, and well over half of states have added protections for victims of stalking. Finally, research from the University of Kentucky shows that protective orders work – victims that received a protective order reported a significant reduction in violence and fear of future harm.

Senator Westerfield explained why the current process doesn’t work. Current options for people in dating relationships take too much time, meanwhile leaving victims vulnerable to violence. Essentially, people who have not been married, lived with, or had a child with the offender must experience violence first, then wait on criminal prosecutions—which can mean a lengthy court process. Senator Westerfield summed it up by saying that it is important as a legislator to create protection where it does not exist.

As Representative Tilley and Senator Westerfield shared, they are still working on getting input on the specific language of the bill before filing it for the 2015 legislative session. Until the bill is filed, we can all raise awareness with our elected officials about the need to protect young victims, as well as children whose parents are victims by extending protective orders to additional groups of victims.

Extending protective orders to victims of dating violence is one of the policy priorities on the 2015 Blueprint for Kentucky’s Children Policy Agenda. Learn more about this and other Blueprint Agenda items by visiting the Blueprint website.

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