Ky. lags in protecting date-violence victims

SUMMIT BRINGS ATTENTION TO 'HOLES' IN LAW

lblackford@herald-leader.comNovember 11, 2009 

LOUISVILLE — Sharon LaRue came to the National Summit to End Domestic Violence for new ideas to help students at the University of Louisville — among the many workshops were ways to address stalking and using student athletes to help end violence against women.

But, LaRue said, the thing that would help her efforts the most would be the Kentucky General Assembly passing a law to allow victims of dating violence to get protective orders.

Currently, 40 states extend that protection; in Kentucky, protective orders are given only to people who are married, have lived together or have a child together.

"My students can't get the protections they need," said LaRue, who directs the Prevention, Education and Advocacy on Campus and in the Community at U of L. "That is a lot of people who can't access services that we've worked so hard to enact."

Several advocates at the summit said the lack of dating protection is a big hole in a state that has been seen as progressive in the fight against domestic violence.

That fight is back in the spotlight because of the September shooting death of Amanda Ross, a Lexington woman allegedly killed by her former boyfriend, former legislator Steve Nunn.

Ross was able to obtain a protective order against Nunn because they had lived together briefly. But thousands of other women, young and old, are not.

"Once again, a front page victim gives us an opportunity to show where the holes are," said Marcia Roth, director of The Mary Byron Project, which put on the summit. Mary Byron of Louisville was killed in 1993 by a former boyfriend who had been released from jail. Byron's family started a foundation that helped push for the National Victim Notification Network, which is now used in communities across the country.

The Mary Byron Project also identifies innovative programs around the country to fight domestic violence. Those programs are showcased at the summit.

Efforts to get dating protective orders have failed in Frankfort in the past, but Rep. Jodi Jenkins, D-Louisville, has filed a bill again. House Speaker Greg Stumbo is also pushing "Amanda's Bill," which would require electronic monitoring for the most dangerous domestic violence offenders.

Jefferson County Family Court Judge Jerry Bowles, who spoke at the conference, said just last week a 50-year-old woman whose boyfriend was threatening her asked for a protective order.

"She said, 'You don't understand, he's going to kill me,'" Bowles said. "I said, 'I do understand, but I can't give you a protective order because you don't meet the criteria.'"

That needs to change, Bowles said.

"I do understand that the danger is no less because she hasn't lived with him," he said. "The danger to her comes from the relationship."

A recent study out of the University of Kentucky found that protective orders do help, but there are still too many barriers, including the fact that dating couples cannot obtain them.

"We are so far behind," said Travis Fritsch, a long-time domestic violence advocate. "We see case after case of young women or middle-aged or older women who find out the person they're dating is abusive. They're not going to marry them to get a protective order.

"We have to have the basics."

Reach Linda Blackford at (859) 231-1359 or lblackford@herald-leader.com.

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