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Domestic violence at ‘epidemic proportions’ in Kentucky. Here’s where you can find help

LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) – In Kentucky, an estimated 775,000 women will experience domestic violence in their lifetime.

The violence goes beyond the victim and the abuser. Children, friends, and relatives, and the entire community suffer.

At the same time, domestic violence cases are very complicated and can be challenging to prosecute. Many victims don’t want the abuser charged or convicted.

“In a year, about 80 to 85 percent of my caseload is domestic violence, and that’s a staggering number,” said Jessamine County Victim’s Advocate Taunya Northup-Mendenhall.

Northup-Mendenhall is on-call seven days a week and says domestic violence calls in the middle of the night are common. She is one of the first people to talk with a domestic violence victim. She offers support, takes pictures of the injuries, helps file an emergency protective order, and guides the victim through the court process.

UK Policy Studies on Violence Against Women Executive Director, Carol Jordan, says it’s not uncommon for domestic violence victims to not want the abuser charged or prosecuted.

“Fear of retaliation, those are the things that probably influence most survivors, but it’s important to know that some survivors don’t want the relationship to be over, so the idea of him going to jail, is really not conducive to how she feels about him necessarily,” said Jordan.

Jessamine County Attorney Brian Goetl has seen a lot of victims back off from prosecuting the abuser.

Goetl has a 30-day waiting period to give domestic violence victims time to figure out what they want. “So that they can step back from that request to dismiss when they’ve been attacked, and a final decision,” said Goetl.

Abusers are often charged with fourth-degree assault. That’s a misdemeanor, a lesser crime, carrying a sentence of up to 12- months in jail.

When those injuries are considered serious, or a deadly weapon is used, that bumps the charge up to first-degree assault, a felony, which carries a 10 to 20-year sentence in prison. When the victim wants the charge dropped, it makes prosecution more challenging.

“It’s the state versus the defendant, not the victim versus the defendant, so of course we would take the victim’s wishes and opinions into account, but the important thing is, not only to protect the victim, but to hold the offender accountable, and that’s our job,” said Fayette County Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Kathy Phillips.

Phillips specializes in prosecuting domestic violence cases. She takes abusers to trial, even when the victim wants a dismissal. She says the question then becomes, does she have enough evidence to convince a jury.

“Depends on the evidence that we have, whether or not there are witnesses, whether or not we have corroborating evidence, whether or not we have other proof that could be given to a jury without the victims. It’s challenging, it’s difficult, but it’s something we have to keep striving to do,” said Phillips.

WKYT hosted a live panel discussion with six legal and support experts about the challenges of domestic violence cases, and where victims can get help. You can watch that discussion above.

You can find a list of resources on domestic violence on the side of this article.