MCCRACKEN COUNTY, Ky. -
There is a victory for victims of dating violence in Kentucky. For almost a decade, advocates and politicians have been pushing legislation that would expand civil protections to include people in abusive, interpersonal relationships. Wednesday, Governor Steve Beshear is scheduled to sign the dating violence bill into law, and supporters say it's better late than never.
"I knew the man who raped me. We had been dating a short time when happened," said Meghan Wright. Her powerful testimony about not having access to civil protection after an alleged sexual assault has helped changed the law for future victims in Kentucky.
Nationally, one in ten teens experiences abuse at the hands of a boyfriend or girlfriend. Mary Foley with The Merryman House Domestic Crisis Center said giving them an option for an emergency protective order is the right thing to do. "This always should have been. We shouldn't have waited so long, but I didn't want to get focused on what we shouldn't have done and lose sight of what we have done."
Foley had advocated for a dating violence bill for seven years. Once passed, she said it will change the way counselors can respond to victims. "What's happening to you is dangerous, it's lethal, and it could cost you your life. We are going to be able to punctuate that statement by saying, '...and there's protection for you, and we're with you every step of the way,'" Foley said.
The bill defines what a dating relationship is and provides protective order options to stalking and sexual assault victims. The provisions have been fought hard for. Foley said, "We've crossed the finish line, and now it's time to celebrate."
The bill gives local jurisdictions until January 1, 2016, to work out a protocol for these types of cases. There is also a mechanism allowing the EPO to be expunged if it turns out to be based on false claims.
All local legislators voted in favor of this bill, in fact, it passed in the house unanimously. Right now, the only people who can get emergency protective orders in Kentucky are those who are married, live with, or have a child with their abuser.
Anyone in an abusive situation can call The Merryman House's toll-free crisis line at 1-800-585-2686.