April is Domestic Violence and Child Abuse Prevention Month, a time that places the spotlight on two issues I find disturbing, both for the nature of the crimes and the helplessness of the victims. That’s why the recent report on child maltreatment released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Children’s Bureau got my attention. The report cites Kentucky as the second highest state in the nation for child abuse. Disturbing as that may be, it’s only the tip of the iceberg when you include domestic violence or abuse that includes the elderly as well as the young.
Consider some of the facts. One in four women have been, will be, or are being abused by an intimate partner. One third of our nation’s children live in violent homes. In KY, if a child lives in a home where violence is occurring and neither parent does anything to protect him/her from this environment, it is considered child abuse. The repercussions can go even further. Children living in a home where domestic violence occurs are more likely to become victims or even abusers themselves. They are also more likely to drop out of school, have cognitive delays, develop substance abuse problems, develop emotional problems; the list goes on and on.
A growing number of elderly are also vulnerable to a broad range of exploitation and abuse. Knowing just how many and who they are however, is often quite difficult to determine since few agencies handling elder abuse keep track of that information. Kentucky, for one, does not have an “elder abuse” law; rather the law provides for protection of adults age 18 and over “who because of a mental or physical dysfunction cannot carry out the activities of daily living or protect themselves from others who may abuse, neglect, or exploit them.”
Yet despite what is known, national research estimates report that as few as 1 in 25 elderly exploitation cases are ever brought to the attention of Adult Protection Services and other related authorities. What may be even more alarming is the research indicating that adult children and relatives make up just over 50% of perpetrators of all types of maltreatment including exploitation.
To those who’ve been victimized, the idea of coming forward can be daunting. Fear, intimidation, power, control, and ignorance are all factors to be considered. A 2015 survey conducted for the National Domestic Violence Hotline by University of Kentucky Professor TK Logan of the Department of Behavioral Science bear some of this out. 637 women, average age of 30, took part in the survey. All had experienced some degree of partner abuse. Participants were grouped into women who had called the police before, and those who had not. Both shared a strong reluctance to calling law enforcement for help. 1 in 4 reported that they would not call the police in the future. More than half said doing so, would make things worse. Over two-thirds said they were afraid the police “wouldn’t believe them,” or “do nothing.” Other reasons cited for their reluctance included fear of reprisal by their abuser, fear of eviction by their landlord, a belief that law enforcement fails to investigate domestic violence cases appropriately or threaten the victim with arrest rather than the offender. Some studies further show that officers who tend to arrest survivors believe that domestic violence is justified in some situations and that women stay in abusive relationships for psychological reasons. All these factors present huge obstacles for women (and men) living in fear of their tormentor and the fear of trying to leave.
Another obstacle to assistance is that elder abuse, child abuse, and domestic violence are often referred to as silent crimes. Most of us never see it because most victims are abused behind closed doors. Too often when people have seen it, they choose not to get involved because it’s “none of my business.”
Those times appear to be changing however, at least in Madison County thanks to the efforts of people like Jennifer Lainhart, director of Hope’s Wings domestic violence shelter, Richmond Police Chief James Ebert, Madison County Attorney Jennifer Smith, Berea Police Chief David Gregory, Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear and others who have been working together to become the only community in Kentucky, and one of only seven nationwide, to be a Blueprint for Safety Community. The blueprint calls for county agencies, including 911, local law enforcement, county prosecutors, the county jailer and probation and parole to work together in ways that build partnerships, make it safer for victims to seek assistance and easier for abusers to be prosecuted and/or monitored. Another player in this new collaboration is Victoria Benge, Executive Director of CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) of Madison County. Her office, trains community volunteers to advocate on behalf of abused and neglected children in the family court system. They visit with the child at least monthly and make recommendations to the Family Court Judge regarding the best interest of the child.
Every child deserves the opportunity to grow up in a safe, stable, and nurturing environment. Every adult should have the right to live in safety without violence or fear. You don’t have to be a victim to appreciate the consequences of inaction. Abuse, neglect, and exploitation should be everyone’s concern.
Kentucky is a mandatory reporting state (Reference KRS 209.030) If you suspect abuse, you are legally required to report it. Calls can be made anonymously at the 24-hour toll free hotline 1-800-752-6200.
To learn more, join me and my guests Jennifer Lainhart, Director of Hope’s Wings, Richmond Police Chief John Ebert, Victoria Benge, Director of CASA for Madison County on Thursday April 19 at 1p.m. on Y92.5 or 103.5 WKXO FM or watch for dates and time for a video recording on www.wbontv.com later this weekend.
Jeff Rubin is a consultant on community and aging issues and the author of Wisdom of Age. Having spent over 20 years as a director and facilitator of community service programs at the local, state and national levels, he is today an advocate for “Age-friendly” and “Livable” communities, Mr. Rubin is currently working to advance these initiatives statewide in Kentucky and invites your comments, involvement, and support. He can be reached at [email protected].
- Bluegrass Rape Crisis Center – 859-253-2615 bluegrassrapecrisis.org
- Bluegrass Elder Abuse Prevention Council – The mission of the Bluegrass Elder Abuse Prevention Council is to aid in the prevention of elder abuse through community education and identifying those at risk. – bluegrasseapc.com
- Berea Police Department – 859-986-8456
- KASP (Kentucky Association of Sexual Assault Programs Inc.) provides technical assistance to member programs and other professionals, advocates for improvements in public policy, fosters coalition building among members and those with common concerns, and promotes prevention and public awareness regarding sexual violence and related issues. – 502-226-2704 kasap.org
- Kentucky Adult Protective Services – Adult Protective Services are directed toward preserving vulnerable individuals’ independence and/or protecting them from abuse, neglect and/or exploitation. Services are provided through each county Department for Community Based Services 502-564-7043 http://chfs.ky.gov/dcbs/dpp/Adult+Protective+and+General+Adult+Services.htm
- KCADV (The Kentucky Coalition Against Domestic Violence) statewide voice on behalf of survivors and their children works in conjunction with the Kentucky Association of Sexual Assault programs to provide resources, training, and technical assistance to its member programs. 502-209-5382 [email protected]
- Hopes Wings – provides emergency shelter, counseling, and support to help victims of abuse make safe permanent changes for themselves and their children. 859-623-4096. hopeswings.com
- Richmond Police Department – 859-623-8911
- Kentucky Division of Protection and Permanency (DPP) The Division of Protection and Permanency coordinates the state’s child welfare and violence prevention efforts. If you believe a child or adult is being abused, neglected, exploited or is dependent, Please call the protection and permanency office in your county or the Toll Free Child Protection Hotline. 1-877-KYSAFE http://chfs.ky.gov/dcbs/dpp/