Ky. Voices: Safe sites needed for exchange of children

Darlene Thomas is executive director at the Bluegrass Domestic Violence Program
Darlene Thomas is executive director at the Bluegrass Domestic Violence Program

As executive director of the Bluegrass Domestic Violence Program, I extend heartfelt condolences to the families of Caitlyn, Jackie and Taylor Cornett. Although I do not wish to make assumptions regarding the specific brutality that occurred in Hazard, our community should be informed of the reality that many victims of intimate partner violence arrange child exchanges and visitations at public sites such as Wal-Mart, McDonald's and, in this case, a parking lot at a community college to reduce risk of harm from an abuser.

Victims often believe that being in a public place and having a family member or friend with them will deter violence. Victims negotiate their safety in this manner nearly every day. As advocates for victims of domestic violence, we often find ourselves in these same situations when providing transportation to assist our clients with court-ordered visitation and exchange orders.

These orders are not malicious or unaware of the potential dangers of intimate partner violence. Rather, our judicial system enters visitation agreements for exchange of children in an agreed public location or third-party private home to protect victims of intimate partner abuse.

Other choices for most of our courts are nonexistent or not feasible, depending on where you live in Kentucky. Lexington and surrounding counties are fortunate to have Sunflower Kids, a secured facility that assists in the safe visitation and exchange of children.

However, even this option requires dependable transportation, but the cost of transportation to Fayette County is prohibitive for many.

Intimate partner cases are complicated, and every case is potentially lethal. As a society, we must never minimize or lose sight of the very real impact of this violence. Every year, an average of 25 women in Kentucky are murdered by their current or former partners.

This staggering number does not include children, family members or friends who also are on the receiving end of an abusive person's unjustifiable behavior.

We must seek to expand safe exchange centers throughout the state in response to the tragedy in Hazard and recent similar situations. Exchange centers work and drastically reduce the contact between intimate partner victims and abusers.

This, in turn, saves lives. Although it is sadly too late to help Caitlyn Cornett, her uncle and 12-year-old cousin, the solution to prevent future fatalities is within our grasp.

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