Kentucky issues first statewide report of domestic violence data

‘Shocking’ numbers can help inform policy, advocacy efforts

By: - July 6, 2023 3:51 pm

The report is a good jumping off point for addressing violence — and also learning what gaps in reporting exist, said Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Fruit Hill, chairman the Senate Judiciary Committee. (Getty Images)

If you or someone you know has experienced domestic violence, call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673. Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233. 

You can also contact any of Kentucky’s 15 domestic violence programs. 

Almost half of Kentucky women — 45% — and around 36% of men in the state say they have experienced intimate partner violence — or threat of it — in their lifetimes.

Credit: Kentucky Justice and Public Safety Cabinet.

Now, a first-of-its-kind statewide report, released June 30, takes a closer look at how police, courts and social service agencies in Kentucky respond. The report is the result of a bill in 2022 that directed agencies to annually gather and publish data on domestic and dating violence and abuse.

The information was compiled from the Justice and Public Safety Cabinet’s Criminal Justice Statistical Analysis Center, Kentucky State Police, Cabinet for Health and Family Services, the Administrative Office of the Courts and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Most of the data in the 207 pages comes from 2022.

Cortney Downs, chief equity officer for Kentucky Youth Advocates, said it’s “shocking” to see that a “significant percentage of the state’s population” experience intimate partner violence or stalking.

“Regardless of knowing that it happens and understanding the dynamics of it, to see that specific number that is almost 50% is just mind blowing,” said Downs, who has a background in domestic violence advocacy.

Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Fruit Hill, chairman the Senate Judiciary Committee, sponsored the bill that led to the report. He told the Kentucky Lantern that the report is a good jumping off point for addressing violence. It can also show, he said, what gaps in reporting exist. 

“I’m excited to see that we have an inaugural report,” he said. “We have a baseline; we have a place to start.” 

In the future, Westerfield would like to see data that shows any connections between domestic violence cases and homicides. 

“Quality data is critical for the criminal justice system as we work to enhance public safety,” Justice and Public Safety Cabinet Secretary Kerry Harvey said in a statement after the report’s release. “Better data will lead to more effective prevention efforts and will be a useful tool for law enforcement agencies, courts and service providers.”

ZeroV, formerly Kentucky’s Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said in response to the report that “we must continue to find ways to support survivors who do not reach out to law enforcement or the courts for protection and help and identify the barriers such survivors face.”

“Both ZeroV and the Commonwealth of Kentucky at large have a responsibility to create futures free from violence for all,” ZeroV said. “This data not only allows us to honor the lives impacted by domestic violence but allows us to create best practices and prevention strategies to get the violence in our state to zero.”

Complaints and arrests 

Police who respond to domestic violence calls fill out a JC-3 form, which documents injuries and then helps the Cabinet for Health and Family Services provide appropriate services to the victim.

Not all areas use electronic filing, but Westerfield would like to see it become universal. 

Cortney Downs, Chief Equity Officer for Kentucky Youth Advocates.
(Photo provided).

“Maybe, from a budget standpoint, there needs to be some incentives or carrot-stick approaches of one variety or another to get the remaining agencies using the electronic JC-3,” he said. 

In 2022, the region including Jefferson County filed the most electronic JC-3 forms at 15,602. That region also led the arrest totals at 2,833. 

In total, there were 38,708 electronic JC-3 forms filed across Kentucky in 2022 and 8,867 corresponding arrests. 

That gap between calls and arrests could be “a big red flag,” Westerfield said. He’ll have questions going forward about what it means. 

There are many potential reasons for more forms than arrests, Downs said. Arrest might not always be the appropriate response, she said.

Sometimes, a parent will call on a child who pushed past them in a hallway, she said. Some may call in to document an event, but don’t pursue charges. Other times, a perpetrator may flee, making arrest impossible.

“There are some different factors. And, there may be some red flags there,” Downs said. “But… it’s almost like you have to go through and read some of the narratives just to kind of get a sense of what the outcomes are and if there is room for improvement there or not.”

The report also showed the Kentucky State Police served 16,402 emergency protective orders (EPOs), which are short-term orders that restrict the accused’s movements until the issue can go before a judge, which the court system aims to do within two weeks. 

Kentucky has the second highest rate of domestic violence in the United States, according to 2023 World Population Review data. The commonwealth is also 11th in the country for femicides, which are killings of females because of their gender. 

Kentucky’s domestic violence shelter programs.

15 regional programs

Kentucky has domestic violence shelter programs across the state. In 2022, they sheltered  3,241 people and otherwise served 12,805 – a total of 16,046. 

Additionally, the 15 regional domestic violence programs received 21,241 crisis calls in 2022. 

Adults ages 25 to 59 made up the majority of those served at 10,548. Of those who received both shelter and other services, 397 self-identified as members of the LGBTQ community. Nearly 400 — 395 — had some level of language barrier. 

Of the 16,046 people served in and out of shelters for domestic violence issues, 67% were white, 11% were Black and 5% were Hispanic. There were 2,600 whose race was unknown and fewer than 1,000 who fell into other racial or ethnic groups.

In 2022, Kentucky’s population was 87% white, 9% Black and 4% Hispanic, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. 

Any disparities in abuse or treatment options need to be further explored, Downs said.

“I think (domestic violence) is … an equal opportunity offender,” she said. “It can happen to anyone.”

Not just an adult problem 

Domestic violence, the report shows, isn’t only an adult problem.

While adults made up the majority of those receiving services, 1,739 children under the age of 12 received both shelter and non-shelter services. There were also 379 children ages 13-17 and four children whose ages were not known. 

Twenty-four youth ages 13-17 received services because they were victims of dating violence.

In total, 1,333 children received crisis intervention in 2022.

Already, Kentucky is one of the worst places for youngsters to live and ranks high for adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). 

Whitney Westerfield
Sen. Whitney Westerfield

ACEs may include events closely tied to domestic violence, such as witnessing or experiencing violence, abuse, neglect or parental separation. 

Those early ACEs can lead to poor physical health, as well as social struggles and mental health issues in adults.

“It’s not uncommon to … see that generational impact where if you grow up around abuse, especially if you’re exposed early, if you’re exposed to it long term, you can see that cycle continue, sometimes as the victim or as the survivor, sometimes as the perpetrator,” Downs said.

The number of children receiving services, Westerfield said, is “astounding.” 

“I’m not surprised with the numbers,” he said, “but it’s stunning to see that number for the very first time. That’s a data point that I’m not aware we ever had before.” 

The number stands out especially because people usually think of adults when they think of domestic violence, he said. 

“You don’t think of children. You don’t think of minors. When I think of dating violence, I do think of young women in particular but I still don’t think of children. I think of college aged, high school age at the youngest.” 

For now, Westerfield said, policymakers and advocates have a jumping off point to address domestic violence in Kentucky. 

“It’s our first report. We’re going to see what deficits we have, not just in terms of information we’ve got, but we’re going to see the deficits and the information we don’t have and where we need to add to the report or fine tune it,” he said. “So we’ve got to start somewhere. And I’m glad that we’re finally starting … somewhere.” 

Beyond giving policymakers and advocates data to work with, Downs said the report can help bring awareness to how often domestic violence happens.

“I just hope that people take this opportunity to… educate themselves and just to understand that this is a long standing issue,” she said. “It is not one of those things that you can just look away from and hope that it will go away because it won’t. Abuse thrives in silence. So, we need to be able to look at it and we need to be able to name it and then…act on it. Do something about it.”


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Sarah Ladd
Sarah Ladd

Sarah Ladd is a Louisville-based journalist from West Kentucky who's covered everything from crime to higher education. She spent nearly two years on the metro breaking news desk at The Courier Journal. In 2020, she started reporting on the COVID-19 pandemic and has covered health ever since. As the Kentucky Lantern's health reporter, she focuses on mental health, LGBTQ+ issues, children's welfare, COVID-19 and more.