Why doesn’t the Kentucky Senate care about dating violence?

Kentucky House Bill 98 would have introduced a series of educational and policy requirements regarding teen dating violence for school districts and high school educational staff. It failed in the Senate – and this was even after a committee amendment gutted both the requirement that every school board adopt a policy related to teen dating violence and the statewide data collection system to compile reports of teen dating violence.

But what’s even worse is that Kentucky House Bill 9, a bill which would allow victims of dating abuse to seek civil protection from their abusers, didn’t even get to the point where it could be voted on in the anti-dating-protections Kentucky Senate. Kentucky currently provides protections to people who aren’t married to their abusers only if they lived with them or had a child with them, but this excludes a wide swath of dating relationships from consideration in a civil case. After passing the House and clearing the Senate Judiciary Committee for the first time, this bill couldn’t even garner enough support to come to a vote in the Senate; it was adjourned ‘sine die’ (for an indefinite period), which is essentially equivalent to letting a bill die.

So the Kentucky State Senate doesn’t want to educate teenagers about healthy dating practices – and when those teenagers and young adults end up in actual abusive relationships, the Senate certainly doesn’t want to help them get the protection they need. The bizarre and myopic refusal to support these kinds of protections puts actual lives in danger. And it’s not like this was the first time the bill was introduced in the House, and therefore the first time the Kentucky Senate got to consider it. The bill was approved by a House committee five times in the past five years, giving legislators plenty of time to educate themselves on this legislation and its implications.

So far, I’ve just been ranting, and that’s because I honestly don’t understand any kind of reasonable argument as to why this bill shouldn’t clear any competent legislative body. But the Kentucky Senate clearly thinks there’s some kind of possible reason – so let’s consider a few of them.

“Dating violence isn’t a big deal.”

No. This just isn’t true. According to The National Conference of State Legislatures, “one in 10 adolescents reports being a victim of physical dating violence.” About a quarter of adolescents report any form of abuse – verbal, physical, emotional, or sexual – each year. And ‘dating’ isn’t something only teen heathens do. About 72% of eighth and ninth graders report ‘dating’ in some form; the numbers only go up as people get older. A national poll found that 43% of college women have experienced violent and abusive dating behaviors, and 15% of all college students have been the victim of physical abuse, sexual abuse, or threats of physical violence. Older dating couples who are not cohabitating also experience abuse to a surprising degree.

And these are the nationwide statistics – Kentucky is even worse. Kentucky high schoolers report being hit, slapped, or otherwise physically hurt by a boyfriend or girlfriend at some point in the previous year at a rate of upwards of 14.1%. It’s one of only five states in the nation to have such a high rate of high school dating violence, joining Wyoming, Arkansas, Maryland, and Georgia.

“Dating abuse isn’t dangerous enough to justify protection.”

Tell that to the family of Darnisha Peoples, a seventeen-year-old high school junior whose ex-boyfriend allegedly stabbed her to death last September in front of his two younger siblings. She’s just one of too many teenagers who are killed by current or former partners before they even leave high school – certainly before many of them consider living with their partners or having children with them. As tragic as it may be, teenagers are not exempt from abusing, seriously harming, or even murdering their partners.

It might be that long, long ago (maybe 1850?) dating relationships were never close enough to develop the kind of intimacy that would allow an abuser to generate and sustain a cycle of abuse. Maybe the reason why couples that cohabitated at some point are eligible for civil protections while couples that live separately are not is because legislators felt that cohabitating dating relationships were ‘serious’ and therefore potentially dangerous, while ones in which the parties lived separately were not.

Given recent research into the prevalence of high school dating violence, though, it should be clear that abuse can rear its ugly head anywhere. Moreover, there may be any number of reasons why someone might pursue a ‘serious’ relationship and still choose to live separately from their partner – kids from another marriage or relationship, convenience relative to their job, financial issues. So even if legislators wanted to adopt the ‘serious relationship’ criterion for deciding when to grant protective orders (ignoring the fact that courts can do this as well, in a more nuanced way), they still don’t have much justification.

Food for thought: according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, even though overall intimate partner homicide rates are on the decline, the rate of homicides of dating partners is increasing. Dating violence is serious, and a civil protection policy shouldn’t just ignore it.

“These are just kids – they can’t make appropriate decisions.”

Fortunately, the judge is sitting on the bench for the exact purpose of making those appropriate decisions.

“This will put too large a financial strain on the family court system.”

First of all, there are just some points at which we simply shouldn’t care about financial strains or burdens, and should accept them as part of the cost of keeping people safe, healthy, and alive. We accept the extra cost of paying for public schooling, the extra cost of paying for prisons to lock criminals up, the extra cost of social security so our aging relatives don’t suffer. The – significantly smaller – extra costs potentially associated with expanding these civil protections can help save people who otherwise would have to live lives of insecurity, dread, or downright terror.

This kind of argument is a tough sell for some people, the kinds who are only concerned about cost savings. But even though arguments on the grounds of financial strain initially sound reasonable, these claims aren’t true. University of Louisville researcher TK Logan has done a considerable amount of research on the cost increases or savings associated with civil protective orders, and has found that while there are typically high costs associated with intimate partner violence before and after civil protection is implemented, issuing domestic violence orders typically results in cost savings. The actual cost of the court time and resources is less than the large decrease in quality-of-life costs, health service costs, police and justice system costs, and costs from property loss. It’s certainly less than the cost of a criminal prosecution for a misdemeanor or felony, which is the route to which victims of dating violence must turn when they can’t obtain personal protection via the civil system. Intimate partner violence is a huge burden on our criminal justice and healthcare systems, as well as the overall safety and productivity of society. Steps to reduce it are worth some short-term cost.

Kentucky Stands Alone

Maybe common sense, reason, or compassion won’t work. Sometimes people respond better to shaming and humiliation. They should consider this: Kentucky is literally the only state in the union without any kind of civil protection for victims of dating violence. Seriously. Forty-three states explicitly extend their protective orders to members of a current or former ‘dating relationship’ or ‘intimate relationship,’ while the other six (Georgia, Maryland, Ohio, South Carolina, South Dakota, and Virginia) allow victims to file for civil protection under other sorts of protective orders. Please share the map below to let others know exactly how behind Kentucky is when it comes to these protections.



About The Mary Byron Project

The Mary Byron Project was established in 2000 in memory of the young woman whose tragic murder led to the creation of automated crime victim notification technologies. As a nationally recognized thought leader on domestic violence, the Mary Byron Project cultivates and supports efforts that extend beyond crisis management to attack the root causes of this epidemic and help build safer, healthier communities. Solutions are within our grasp. The Mary Byron Project was established with that quest in mind.
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1 Response to Why doesn’t the Kentucky Senate care about dating violence?

  1. My cynical knee-jerk answer is: because these legislators do not believe that it affects them or their loved ones.

    Look at conservative senator Rob Portman who recently announced his support for gay marriage. His change of heart came from learning that his son is gay: “It allowed me to think about this issue from a new perspective, and that’s as a dad who loves his son a lot and wants him to have the same opportunities that his brother and sister have.” Previously Portman had voted for an amendment banning same-sex marriages (2004) and banning gay adoptions (1999). His “new perspective” on the issue came about only when he realized that these actions were adversely affecting his son.

    Obviously I hope that it does not take a legislator losing their own child from teen dating violence in order to gain a “new perspective.” Instead it might take an awareness that their children already are in abusive relationships. Not all of them – but many of them. By the time students graduate from college 44% of them have been in an abusive relationship. [1]

    Two remarkable things about this statistic:

    First, is that 44% is a tragically high number.

    Second, is that these are students who graduate from college. These are not high school dropouts; not incarcerated felons; not “those” people who have-bad-things-happen-to-them-because-of-bad-decisions-they-have-made-and-therefore-we-needn’t-be-concerned.

    This statistic is important because many people mistakenly believe that abusive relationships only happens to “those” people. This fallacy isn’t founded merely in ignorance but also in the hope that we hold out for our loved ones that they have a great deal of control over their safety. If our loved ones walk the straight line – do the right things – then we don’t have to worry that their life will be cut short; abusive relationships only happen to “those” people.

    My somewhat-less-cynical answer is about legislative fear of “unfunded mandates.”

    “Our school budgets are already tight – we can’t afford to teach our students about healthy relationship behavior.” The truth is that integrating this necessary information into existing health course curricula does not cost the school district any additional money. There are many free resources available for schools and teachers including curricula, [2] activity guides, [3] and even video games. [4] (note: these video games are produced by the nonprofit org that I run)

    Likewise, as pointed out above, is a fear that allowing dating partners to get protective orders is cost prohibitive. What is often overlooked however is the significant costs associated with teens in abusive relationships. According to the CDC: “Victims of teen dating violence are more likely to do poorly in school, and report binge drinking, suicide attempts, and physical fighting. Victims may also carry the patterns of violence into future relationships.” [5]

    Further, a 1997 study revealed: “Girls who reported that they had been sexually or physically abused were more than twice as likely as non abused girls to report smoking (26% versus 10%), drinking (22% versus 12%), and using illegal drugs (30% versus 13%).” [6]

    The financial cost of abusive relationships is considerable and the earlier it is stopped the better it is for everybody. Some of the costs associated with intimate partner violence (IPV): annual cost to victims is about $8.8 billion ($67 billion including pain,suffering, and quality of life) , [7] and annual cost to businesses is approximately $3 – $5 billion due to lost time and productivity. [8]

    Again, my hope is that it’s ignorance of these facts that guides the Kentucky Senate in their “do nothing” approach.

    One other argument that I’ve heard repeatedly over the years about including dating violence in school is that it’s not the school’s job, it’s something the parents need to do. Although I agree that parents should be having these conversations with their kids, unfortunately that isn’t enough. For example, your daughter (let’s call her Jennifer) knows about dating violence because you’ve discussed this with her at the same time you’ve discussed risks of alcohol, drugs, unprotected sex, etc. But what if Jennifer’s best friend knows nothing about dating violence at all? Jennifer’s best friend doesn’t know how serious this issue is – or where to turn for help. And so when Jennifer’s ex-boyfriend tells that best friend that he’s going to kill Jennifer for ruining his life – what’s the best friend to do?

    It might be that the first time the best friend tells anybody about this threat is to the grand jury that is deciding if the ex-boyfriend should be tried for murder of your daughter. Of your Jennifer.

    I wish that this was a far-fetched example but unfortunately it is not.

    Jennifer is my daughter. She was murdered by her ex-boyfriend. Her best friend told nobody about the threats on my daughter’s life – not until she testified to the grand jury which then issued an indictment against the ex-boyfriend for murder.

    My daughter’s already dead and that will never change. My hope is that your children are safe – and continue to be safe – and that your government takes appropriate action to help ensure that safety.

    Drew Crecente
    Founder and Executive Director, Jennifer Ann’s Group

    More info and full citation

    Free Curricula


    Free Activity Guide

    Free video games to stop teen dating violence


    Cathy Schoen et al., The Commonwealth Fund, The Commonwealth Fund Survey of the Health of Adolescent Girls (1997).

    Lawrence A. Greenfield et al., US Department of Justice, Violence by Intimates: Analysis of Data on Crimes by Current or Former Spouses, Boyfriends, and Girlfriends, March 1998.

    Violence and Stress: The Work/Family Connection. Washington, DC: Bureau of National Affairs; August 1990. Special Report Number 23.

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