With the historic passage of House Bill 8, as of Jan. 1, both adults and minors engaged in dating relationships will be subject to Kentucky domestic violence law.
Now is the time to plan for implementation, as the new law will have many significant and far-reaching consequences, only some of which were likely intended.
For years, Kentucky law provided domestic violence protection to people only when people were married or had moved their possessions into a mutual residence.
However, a dating relationship, under the new law, is instead a "relationship of a romantic or intimate nature" which will require a judge to determine whether it is "characterized by the expectation of affection."
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Most people could agree on whether they were "hooking up" or "talking" or "in a relationship," as opposed to merely flirting. But as of Jan. 1, the critical question of whether they are in a dating relationship will be the subject of contested evidence, vigorous cross-examination and heated legal argument concerning allegations of intimate activity.
The passage of this law should enhance our determination to work together to prevent domestic violence, as opposed to trying to deal with it after the fact. We should engage in a comprehensive program to educate not only adults but our children about avoiding domestic violence.
As President Barack Obama suggested in his "My Brother's Keeper" speech last February, we must teach young men how to treat women with respect. While not blaming the victim, we must talk about the proven correlation between being under the influence of alcohol and drugs and intimate-partner violence.
Public-service announcements and billboards are a start, but we must have the help of our local government, educational institutions and major employers to provide forums and seminars to get the details out.
We must also do what we can to ensure alleged perpetrators will not be wrongly subjected to unnecessary court-ordered requirements based on false allegations. It is even more critical that we acknowledge the immediate and long-term problems that will be created as this new law allows adults to file complaints for minors.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Tilley, D-Hopkinsville, sponsor of the law, said in House debate that "Kentuckians under age 20 are four times more likely to be abused by a partner than others." Add to that the inexplicable popularity of a recent book and movie that glorifies sexual and abusive dominance, and we may well see an unprecedented volume of dating-violence claims involving children.
Imagine a 15-year old boy brought into domestic-violence court by his 14-year old former girlfriend: "He pushed me down and bruised my leg when I asked him why he was talking to my best friend."
Should these juveniles even be in a courtroom where adult cases are being heard? Can we assume justice will be meted out by the best-intentioned judge if either of these children appears without counsel? They will need lawyers, but how do they pay for them?
Neither existing law nor the 2015 General Assembly gives us any definitive guidance on these questions.
If the judge rules that there has been dating violence, do we want to subject juveniles to the same consequences as adults? Should a teenager's dating violence, or alleged violence, be confidential, as are other juvenile court records, or will it be a permanent blemish against his or her record and impact employment and educational opportunities and the ability to serve in the military?
Existing law provides for court-ordered treatment for adults, with the perpetrator being responsible for the cost of attending up to 28 classes, and sanctions including jail time. Unless we want young people to mingle with adult perpetrators in these classes, steps must be taken immediately to develop a separate program for juvenile perpetrators.
Assuming a special treatment program for young people is developed, should we expect juveniles to pay $20 per week for court-ordered classes? Should their parents or guardians be required to pay?
What about enforcement? Should we even consider sending to a detention center a young person who fails to go to these classes? Do we want our schools to participate in the provision of treatment? Who would be responsible for the development, administration, monitoring and assessment of these programs? Who would pay for all of this?
We should not allow the unintended consequences of this new law to cause a miscarriage of justice, especially for our most valuable natural resource, our children. But that will happen if we do not get to work now to plan the implementation of the new law.
To kick-start the dialogue, I have prepared materials for parents and educators to familiarize adolescents about the law's requirements at www.kydatingviolencealert.com.