Domestic violence does a number on victims' minds. Like many survivors of war or torture, they become depressed and fatalistic.
Even if they take the kids and flee, they know their abusers will know how to find them.
The inability of law enforcement to protect battered women gave rise in the 1970s and '80s to a new approach: a system of civil protective orders.
The purpose is not to punish past violence but to prevent future violence, while restoring to victims some sense of control in their lives.
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All 50 states have enacted protective order laws, including Kentucky in 1984. Courts have upheld the laws as constitutional, and millions of victims have been protected.
Yet, here we are, arguing over something that should be settled.
After all these decades, we're probably not going to sell Sen. Tom Jensen on the advantages of civil protective orders. But we have to try because as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Jensen, R-London, is the gatekeeper on changes in domestic violence law.
Jensen is again vowing to bottle up legislation that would extend domestic violence protections to people who have dated or been involved in an intimate relationship, but who have never been married, lived together or had a child together.
Kentucky is one of only four states that withhold protective orders from dating couples.
Jensen's opposition stems from a philosophical dislike of protective orders in general. He and many of his colleagues say the criminal code is a better way to deal with assaults and stalking.
Jensen, a lawyer and usually one of Frankfort's more enlightened voices, is expressing a common view among the defense bar to which he belongs: No one's freedoms should be curtailed without formal charges and the opportunity for a trial.
Due process should be zealously guarded, and we'd argue it is protected in domestic violence laws. Jensen's purist view reflects a misunderstanding — or perhaps a disregard — for the insidious nature of domestic violence and the great cost and generational suffering it inflicts on Kentuckians.
Domestic violence laws give victims quick, easy access to temporary protective orders. Then respondents get to tell their side to a judge before a permanent order can be issued.
Judges often order respondents to have no contact with the person seeking the protection, or no violent contact, and to stay a minimum distance from a victim's home or workplace. A judge can evict a respondent from the home and order temporary child custody.
As long as the respondent stays away and follows the judge's orders, the respondent won't have a criminal record.
But when a protective order is violated, police, who are often at a loss for how to intervene when threats are being made, have grounds to make an arrest — and perhaps avert a tragedy.
Research shows that protective orders are working and saving Kentucky as much as $85 million a year on criminal prosecutions, medical and other costs.
Jensen's view that the criminal system is adequate is also impractical because acts of domestic violence, almost by definition, occur outside witnesses' view. When it's her word against his, criminal prosecutions are impossible.
Your ex can drive by and spray your yard with gunfire, as happened to a young Louisville woman, but unless a cop is also driving by at the same time, you'll have a hard time proving he did it. His message will come through, nonetheless.
Jefferson Family Court Judge Jerry Bowles told a Herald-Leader reporter that in that example he knew the woman was in danger. He wanted to issue a protective order but couldn't. They had only been dating.