For nearly 40 years now, our country has recognized October as a time to shed light on the dark history of domestic violence. It began with a "Day of Unity" in 1981, and formally expanded to a full month by the end of that decade.
Numerous studies have shown just how big of an impact domestic violence has had on the victims and society as a whole. It's estimated, for example, that 20 Americans are physically harmed by an intimate partner every single minute. Over a lifetime, a quarter of women and more than a tenth of men will suffer severe physical or mental trauma at the hands of a current or former partner.
Nationally, domestic violence is the cause of 15% of all violent crime and is behind a third of all murders involving women. Economically, domestic violence causes victims to miss the equivalent of eight million work days annually.
For too long, this crime was all but hidden and seldom prosecuted, and services for victims were scarce if available at all. Thankfully, that began to change about 50 years ago.
Kentucky became part of that welcome trend when it opened its first rape-crisis center in 1971, and by the late 1970s, Louisville's YWCA began running the first of what are now 15 shelters across the state for victims of domestic violence.
In addition to budgeting money for these and related programs, the General Assembly has adopted a number of laws over the decades designed to better protect victims and crack down on offenders.
That includes toughening criminal penalties in these cases; keeping insurance companies and landlords from discriminating against domestic-violence victims; mandating training for law enforcement and other officials; and establishing protective orders that have since been expanded to include victims of dating violence, stalking and sexual abuse.
Kentucky was also first in the nation to establish an automated notification system that lets the victims know if their offender has been released from incarceration or has escaped from authorities.
In more recent years, legislators have taken other steps designed to improve how we respond to domestic violence and similar cases. This year, we enhanced the penalties for those who strangle their victims, and last year we closed a loophole that required victims of domestic violence to pay for their spouse's court costs if the victim initiates divorce while the offender is in jail.
Several years ago, we laid the foundation to clear a backlog of several thousand untested rape kits. While we were successful in getting that done, there are signs that these kits are still not being tested as quickly as they should, something that will require closer scrutiny when legislators approve the next two-year state government budget in the spring.
A related challenge is increasing the funding for domestic violence shelters/services. A nationwide census taken each fall shows these programs in Kentucky handle close to 1,000 cases a day, but nearly 60 people have to be turned away temporarily due to lack of space or personnel.
If you are a victim of domestic violence or know someone who is, please take action quickly. The National Domestic Violence Hotline is (800) 799-SAFE (7233), and our 15 shelters have toll-free lines as well. You can find those numbers and more information at the Kentucky Coalition Against Domestic Violence website (KCADV.ORG).
If you have any questions or concerns about this issue or others affecting the state, please let me know. My email is Wilson.Stone@lrc.ky.gov, and you can leave a message for me or any legislator by calling the General Assembly's toll-free message line at 800-372-7181. For those with a hearing impairment, the number is 800-896-0305.