Legislative Corner

Violence Against Women in Kentucky: A History of U.S. and State Legislative Reforms

For more than a century, Kentucky women have fought for the right to vote, to own property, to earn and control their wages, and to be safe at home and in the workplace. Tragically, many of them have been silenced by abuse and violence.

In Violence Against Women in Kentucky: A History of U.S. and State Legislative Reform, Carol E. Jordan, executive director of University of Kentucky's Office for Policy Studies on Violence Against Women, gives Kentucky women — specifically victims of rape, domestic violence and stalking — a voice. Their stories punctuate her account of the struggles of advocates and legislators to bring legal protections to these Kentuckians. Written for those engaged in the anti-rape and domestic violence movements, legislators and policy makers, criminal justice and health care professionals, and anyone interested in the fight for women’s rights, "Violence Against Women in Kentucky" documents the legislative reform made, but also outlines the work yet to be done.

In the book published by University Press of Kentucky, Jordan sets the stage with the suffrage and temperance movements of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. From the passage of the 23rd amendment in 1920 granting women the vote, it was more than 40 years before a second women's reform movement began with a focus on economic justice and other freedoms. It was from that second wave of reform that the nation’s attention was first riveted on rape and domestic violence.

Jordan provides a decade-by-decade account, examining more than 100 bills covering rape, domestic violence and stalking that were passed by the Kentucky General Assembly. She begins with the creation of the Kentucky Commission on Women in 1970, passage of the rape shield law, marital rape, domestic violence reforms, and the state’s first anti-stalking legislation; and goes to recent legislation, including the 2010 passage of Amanda’s Law, which expanded the use of GPS tracking devices to protect victims of domestic violence. She also places Kentucky in a broader context by examining violence against women-related reform efforts across the nation.

More than just an explanation of legislation, however, Violence Against Women in Kentucky gives voice to Kentucky women and their advocates. Jordan recounts the story of Myrtle Whitaker, who was shot and paralyzed by her husband, who then killed their two sons before turning the gun on himself. She also tells the stories of advocates like Louisville lawyer Bonnie Brown, who was key to the passage of laws recognizing marital rape in Kentucky. At the heart of the book are elected officials like State Senators Georgia Davis Powers and Marshall Long; State Representatives Gerta Bendl and Joni Jenkins; and many more, who championed reform, sometimes in the face of formidable opposition.

Violence Against Women in Kentucky, however, is not merely a descriptive account of progress; it also serves as a guide for advocates throughout the nation. Policy makers in other states can learn from Kentucky’s successes and failures, and Jordan outlines specific legislative strategies that can be used. In addition, she notes work yet to be done, including an amendment of the Domestic Violence and Abuse Act to extend protective orders to cover dating couples. With an understanding of where we have been and where we need to go, victims of rape, domestic violence and stalking will hopefully have an even stronger voice in the future.

Books can be accessed by contacting the University Press of Kentucky at www.kentuckypress.com or 800-537-5487 or the locations below:

  • On-line at commercial booksellers (e.g., Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Joseph-Beth Booksellers, Carmichael’s Bookstore)
  • By contacting the author at carol.jordan@uky.edu

 

 

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