Big majority supports domestic-violence orders for dating-only partners, and prospects for passage appear to be much better

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

A large majority of Kentuckians say state law should allow domestic-violence protective orders involving dating partners, and the prospects for such a law appear to have improved considerably.

The poll found that 80 percent of Kentucky think dating partners should be allowed to get a protective order against a partner who had made them a victim of violence.

Under current law, such orders are available only to family members, members of an unmarried couple with a child in common, and unmarried couples who either live together or have lived together. All other states allow such orders for partners who are merely in a relationship.

The poll, taken Oct. 8 through Nov. 6, found 83 percent of women and 76 percent of men in favor of the change. Majorities in each political party also supported it: 84 percent of Democrats, 77 percent of Republicans and 75 percent of independents. The poll’s error margin is plus or minus 2.5 percentage points.

“Kentucky is the last state in the country not to offer protections to victims of dating violence,” said state Rep. John Tilley, D-Hopkinsville, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. “It is time we changed that.”

Tilley has sponsored the change for the past four years, but has failed to get it through the Senate, where President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, has said dating partners already have ways to get protection from the justice system. But Tilley said in a telephone interview Thursday that he thinks Stivers has “come around.”

He said this year’s bill is still being drafted, but will have some significant changes from previous bills as supporters have worked to bring all of the stakeholders to the table.

“I am hopeful that this bill will pass because we seem to have key leaders prioritizing this bill, from the Senate president to the speaker of the house to the governor, and that is one difference I can point out from previous sessions,” he said. “This bill will expand the current system to include victims of dating violence to be eligible to receive a protective order and be put into a national network that will then protect them wherever they go in this country.”

Gov. Steve Beshear called for passage of the bill in his State of the Commonwealth address. First Lady Jane Beshear, a longtime advocate for this bill, told Linda Blackford of the Lexington Herald-Leader, “This is not only a top priority for me, it’s a top priority for this office. Steve has been working with leadership to find a bill that is palatable to everyone in hopes we can pass it and then move on to other important things.”

Domestic violence affects nearly one out of four American women in their lifetime, and in Kentucky one in three, according to The Center for Women and Families in Louisville.

“Domestic violence is a public health crisis of a staggering multitude,” Marcia Roth, executive director of The Mary Byron Project, a non-profit that advocates for domestic violence issues, said in a phone interview. “It leads to $4.1 billion for direct medical and mental health services per year.”

Not only is domestic violence a health issue because of its health-care costs, Roth said, “It goes beyond the physical wounds. Victims are more likely to be depressed, have unplanned and premature pregnancies, go to fewer prenatal visits and to miss more well-child visits with their children.”

The populations most vulnerable to domestic violence are females between 16 and 19, with the numbers not much better for those 25 to 27. Most of these young women aren’t married, don’t live with their partner or don’t share a child in common and have no immediate protections from dating violence, Tilley said.

The poll was conducted by the Institute for Policy Research at the University of Cincinnati for the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky and Interact for Health, formerly the Health Foundation of Greater Cincinnati.

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