FRANKFORT – As a matter of public policy, domestic violence, sexual assault, human trafficking and bullying were seldom discussed for much of our country’s history, much less adequately addressed.
Thankfully, that era is largely behind us. Today, society is much more aware of these acts of aggression and how to stop them, and as a result, we’re seeing a greater number of victims get the care they deserve.
I’m proud that Kentucky has been a leader among the states over the years in taking on these matters, and as House Speaker and during my time as Attorney General, I have made it a priority to pass and then implement these meaningful solutions. This year is shaping up to be a high-water mark in that effort.
Our first major step forward this year came early, when the General Assembly broadened civil protective orders to include dating-violence victims and those who have been stalked or sexually assaulted. It’s the biggest change we have made in this area since domestic violence orders were first authorized in the mid-1980s.
Earlier this month, the General Assembly’s Judiciary Committee heard more about the progress being made in implementing this law, which takes effect in January. It appears that we are on track, so the goal now is broadening outreach efforts to make sure everyone eligible for this protection is aware of it.
The statistics indicate this could be a sizeable population. National studies find that nearly 40 percent of Kentucky women, about 638,000 altogether, experience physical violence, rape or stalking by an intimate partner at some point in their lives. At the same time, hundreds of thousands of men in Kentucky said they have been stalked or sexually assaulted by an intimate partner as well.
A statewide census of the state’s domestic violence programs last fall, meanwhile, found that more than 460 victims, nearly half of whom were children, were in the state’s emergency shelters or transitional housing over a single 24-hour period. Nearly 500 more victims received non-residential help during that time.
Last week, both bullying and human trafficking were in the spotlight. On Tuesday, Gov. Beshear and members of the Kentucky Youth Bullying Prevention Task Force unveiled their report, with recommendations ranging from adopting a statewide definition of bullying so that we can better grasp its full scope to dedicating more statewide resources toward the promotion of local and state prevention efforts.
A separate preliminary report on school safety that legislators also discussed that day showed that there were more than 21,000 incidents last year of students being bullied, harassed or threatened; that’s more than 100 every single school day. No more can we think of these actions as “kids being kids.”
As for human trafficking, both Lexington and Louisville hosted forums on this topic last week. Kentucky has passed two major pieces of legislation in this area – in 2007 and 2013 – and this year the General Assembly complemented that by raising criminal court costs to provide a permanent revenue source for Kentucky State Police’s Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force.
Human trafficking may have once been thought of as a crime occurring in other countries, but it very much exists here as well, especially during large sporting events like the Kentucky Derby. Last month alone saw two high-profile cases in Frankfort and Louisville.
There is much more that could be written about each of these areas, but for now, it is good to know that the public is better aware of these problems and how we are trying to counter them. As U.S. Supreme Court Justice – and Kentucky native – Louis Brandeis famously said, “Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.” Nothing is gained by keeping these matters in the dark.
Rep. Greg Stumbo serves as speaker of the Kentucky House of Representatives.