Deadly attitudes endanger women

The lack of urgency about expanding GPS technology to protect victims of domestic violence is disappointing but typical in a state where many powerful people in Frankfort and local courthouses still believe that battered women probably had it coming.

Kentucky this month achieved the dubious distinction of being one of only five states that excludes dating partners from domestic violence protections. This happened when Virginia rolled out a new law, making domestic violence protective orders available to individuals who have not been married or lived together.

This is a particularly vulnerable population that includes students and other young women who often find themselves being threatened or attacked by someone they have dated.

Twice now the Kentucky House has approved legislation to include this group in the protective order system.

And twice the measure has died without a word of debate in the Senate, which is controlled by its president, Sen. David Williams, the Republican candidate for governor.

The General Assembly could not ignore domestic violence when one of its own, former Rep. Steve Nunn, lay in wait and gunned down his ex-fiance Amanda Ross outside her Lexington townhouse one morning in September 2009 as she left for work. (Nunn recently pleaded guilty to murdering Ross and violating a domestic violence order and was sentenced to life without parole.)

In the 2010 session, House Speaker Greg Stumbo introduced Amanda's Bill, which would have allowed judges to order electronic ankle bracelets when they considered an individual at risk of repeating acts of domestic violence. Protective orders prohibit contact and usually require an abusive partner to stay a certain distance away from the victim. The GPS monitoring would allow both law enforcement and the victim to know when an order was being violated and take precautions.

The bill was mauled in the Republican-controlled Senate and emerged a good deal weaker than what Stumbo proposed and with some additions that have actually weakened existing protections for victims of violence.

But it was better than nothing, which is pretty much what has happened in the year since Amanda's Law took effect.

Staff writer Linda Blackford recently reported that for a variety of reasons, the law is not being used.

One problem is that many counties have yet to establish GPS tracking systems for use by courts and probation offices. This technology is bound to spread as it becomes cheaper and cell phone coverage, on which the tracking systems depend, improves in rural areas. It makes so much sense to electronically alert victims when their attacker is near that Amanda's Law is sure to be used more in the future.

What really needs to change, though, is attitudes — the attitudes of those dragging their feet on GPS, who don't take domestic violence seriously and who could soon make Kentucky the last state that withholds protective orders from dating partners.

Although we only hear about protective orders that didn't save a life, a University of Kentucky study has shown the protective order system is reducing incidences of future violence, allowing women to work and care for their families with less fear while saving taxpayers money by averting injuries, crime and legal and incarceration costs.

Two women a month on average die at the hands of male intimate partners in Kentucky, according to conservative estimates. Many more live in fear of beatings, chokings and shootings.

There's no reason — other than Neanderthal attitudes — for not strengthening safeguards against this plague of violence.