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Dating Violence Law Signed; Wait Continues For Protection

Lisa Gabbard

It took those who advocate for domestic-violence victims seven years to convince Kentucky lawmakers to extend protections to dating partners. When the legislation finally made it out of the General Assembly, 137 of the 138 lawmakers voted for the bill.

The legislation, House Bill 8, extends civil protective orders to victims of dating abuse, sexual assault and stalking - the type of immediate help that only has been available to those who are married or living together, or who have a child together.

Darlene Thomas, who runs the Green House 17 shelter in central Kentucky, said it will bring a voice to the unprotected.

"There will be no more shocked expressions of disbelief or tears of desperation," she said.

Gov. Steve Beshear signed the legislation into law on April 9, but it will be a full nine months before the protections are put in place.

Sherry Currens, executive director of the Kentucky Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said the Jan. 1 start date gives the court system time to make the necessary changes.

"I hope that people will hang in there and not forget about it," she said.

Currens said the need to protect victims of partner abuse is immense because Kentuckians younger than age 20 are four times more likely to be abused by a partner than others.

"We're talking about a lifetime exposure of violence," she said, "so this will greatly expand our ability to protect younger victims, and older victims."

Currently, dating partners have to file criminal charges to seek protection. Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Hopkinsville, said that's been too high a bar to clear for victims, who need help quickly.

"These protections can help defuse a situation; may cool tempers," he said. "That's before you even get into the cost savings, if you wanted to talk about that, but we're talking about life savings."

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