It’s Time to Protect Young Victims Where Protections Don’t Exist

By: Dr. Terry Brooks, executive director, Kentucky Youth Advocates

Imagine a kindergartner being fearful at home because he’s afraid his mom’s ex-boyfriend is going to show up at the door and hurt his mom like he said he would. Imagine a senior in high school who is a victim of stalking by her former boyfriend and doesn’t feel safe leaving a friend’s house to go home. Right now in Kentucky, these victims cannot seek immediate protections through protective orders.

Current Kentucky statute only allows protective orders for those who have been married to, lived with, or had a child with the offender. This leaves many people, including many teens without one of the most effective forms of protection from being exposed to or experiencing violence – protective orders. Research from the University of Kentucky shows protective orders work – victims that received a protective order reported a significant reduction in violence and fear of future harm.

This issue is among the legislative priorities of the 2015 Blueprint for Kentucky’s Children and supported by Kentucky Youth Advocates because of the protections it would offer to Kentucky children. Children who witness domestic violence are at increased risk for post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, higher levels of aggression, and poor school performance. We can protect children from these negative experiences by keeping their parents safe.

Additionally, teens who experience dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking cannot currently seek protective orders. This is true despite a recent survey of Kentucky high school students finding nearly one in ten had experienced physical dating violence within the past year, and one in ten experienced sexual dating violence.

New data from the Kentucky Health Issues Poll by the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky shows 80 percent of voters support extending protective orders to people in dating relationships. Men and women; Democrats, Republicans, and Independents; and voters in all regions of the state support allowing dating partners to get protective orders.

House Bill 8 sponsored by Representatives John Tilley and Joni Jenkins aims to close this gap by extending protective orders to victims of dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking. The bill passed the Kentucky House on February 12 with a vote of 98-0 and will now be considered by the Senate.

Although there have been bills filed in previous years, we believe this year, with the strong support among voters and the bipartisan support that has emerged on the issue from policymakers, is the year for the bill to pass. Representative Tilley has worked over the last several months with Senator Whitney Westerfield – the Republican chair of the Senate Judiciary committee – to ensure the proposal can be supported by both chambers this session. Governor Steve Beshear, First Lady Jane Beshear, Senate President Robert Stivers, and House Speaker Greg Stumbo have all weighed in on the issue and expect a bipartisan bill can pass this session on these important protections.

Protective orders offer a cost-effective too for victims of dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking. Thanks to Kentucky’s political leaders for recognizing the need to close this gap in Kentucky law. Kentucky’s children and teens will benefit from extended protections.

We encourage you to find out where your state ranks and what steps are being take to address the issue. Please share what you find.

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