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They are "Champions" to Domestic Violence Victims

Public News Service

To survivors of intimate partner violence and their advocates, Joni Jenkins and Laura Sudkamp are champions.

The two women, who serve Kentucky in different ways, have received the 2016 Champions of Justice Award.

A state representative since 1995, Jenkins has helped secure a variety of domestic violence and sexual assault legal reforms. She says the most important legislation she sponsored was changing the definition of consent in a rape.

"Up until that point, you had to prove in court that you physically fought back, that saying 'no' was not sufficient to be considered a victim of sexual assault," she relates.

And Laura Sudkamp, who oversees the state's crime lab, was honored for her work in helping reduce Kentucky's backlog of more than 3,000 untested rape kits.

Sudkamp says the goal is by the summer of 2018 to have the turnaround time down to 90 days for testing rape kits.

"A lot of it is to bring resolution to the victims, who never knew where their kits went, what happened to them," she states.

The state has increased funding to address the problem and Sudkamp says just last week, 11 new biologists began working at the central lab – increasing the number of people testing DNA to around 30.

She says even if a victim no longer wants to prosecute or a case is weak, eliminating the backlog is vital.

"When you find out through all these kits having to come in and having to be tested, and quickly, you find out that the same guy has done this six times,” she points out. “Does that not make a case that is prosecutable? And that's where they go, 'Yes, definitely.'"

Jenkins says, despite advances in sexual assault laws, the nation must do more to overcome a culture, which she says accepts behavior that crosses the line.

"If we have a culture that accepts that 'boys will be boys' and it's up to women to fend that off, that's very disturbing to me,” she stresses. “So, we're going to have to constantly, I guess, keep looking at what we have in the statutes and how do we hone that differently."

A third Champions for Justice Award was given posthumously to Ian Sonego, an assistant attorney general, for his legal advocacy.

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