Most college students are ineligible to seek protection orders against dating partners who turn violent. Domestic violence protection orders are limited to familial or live-in relationships, or for those who have a child together.
Taneshia House, a recent University of Kentucky graduate and a VISTA volunteer at the Violence Intervention and Prevention Center on campus, said that's wrong.
"Most college students don't cohabitate immediately," she said. "Most visit each other on weekends."
She and others who want to change domestic violence laws to include dating partners will gather in Frankfort on Wednesday, armed with several hundred signatures, in hopes of getting House Bill 73 passed.
"We're trying to rally some students to be a physical presence there," said Ryan Wagoner, outreach coordinator for VIP. "We want to show legislators that people are standing behind it and supporting it."
VIP is a campus organization that deals with stalking, rape and sex assault, Wagoner said. They provide programs to teach and train students how to prevent such violence.
"We also provide service for clients who come in," he said.
Because students have a tough time spending most of a day in Frankfort instead of in the classroom, Wagoner said, they have signed letters in support of the legislation that can be given to legislators.
HB 73, sponsored by state Rep. Mike Denham, D-Maysville, is the result of five separate bills — aimed at the state getting a tighter grip on domestic violence — rolled into one. One of those bills would prohibit joint mediation or counseling when a protection order was in place; one would add strangulation as a physical injury; one would establish a domestic violence database and in-service training for law enforcement; one would prohibit the perpetrator from voting or holding public office; and one would allow dating partners to file for domestic violence protective orders.
"Back in the '80s, Kentucky was on the forefront of domestic violence protection," said state Rep. Joni Jenkins, D-Louisville, who had sponsored the dating partners bill, then known as HB 30. "We sat back on our laurels a little."
Although she has introduced the bill several times, Jenkins said, judges feared that the inclusion of dating partners would clog an overloaded court system. She said the worry was how to determine what a serious relationship is.
But 40 other states have passed similar laws with few problems, she said.
"These people pay taxes and they deserve the same kind of protection," Jenkins said. "We tend to think of it being for very young people. But this is for all ages.
"This is a great bill," she said. "When you intervene early, you really do change behavior. Down the road, this will be a preventative and save money."
Sherry Currens, executive director of the Kentucky Domestic Violence Association, said students on a college campus who experience domestic violence are "kind of sitting ducks."
Victims live in dorms and go to class, leaving them vulnerable to future attacks. Police can't intervene until something else happens, she said. "Campus police have wanted this," she said.
In the case of older dating couples, Currens said, they usually don't live together, and stalking is hard to prove.
"It is so easy to fix," Currens said. "If you look at other states (with the dating provision), there is no indication it will create a huge burden. It is very needed."
The General Assembly has witnessed several bills dealing with domestic violence this session, prompted in large measure by the death of Amanda Ross allegedly by Steve Nunn, a former state legislator. Nunn has pleaded not guilty to the Sept. 11 slaying.
"I think that had a lot of push," Jenkins said. "If you can take a tragedy and have something good come out of it, that makes it a little better."
HB 73 will be discussed at noon in the Judiciary Committee meeting in Room 171 of the Capitol Annex.