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New report details extended waiting time for protective orders in Fayette County

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Posted at 7:00 PM, Jul 03, 2024

LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — For the first time, Fayette County released a report detailing the state of the protective order process for survivors of domestic and sexual violence this week.

The report, published by the Domestic and Sexual Violence Prevention Coalition, gives courts, community organizations, and law enforcement a full view of the strengths and weaknesses of the current system, as well as local data about domestic and sexual violence.

One of the problems detailed in the report is the increasing amount of time between a person petitioning for a protective order and when a final hearing takes place.

In 2009, it took an average of 17 days for a petition to make its way through the court system.

By 2023, that had increased to 49 days.

"The increase of time between petition and hearing creates a cascade of additional issues for survivors," the report details.

Stephanie Theakston, program coordinator for the Domestic and Sexual Violence Prevention Coalition, explained that it isn't clear exactly what is causing the backup. She's hopeful that the report will encourage a community discussion between stakeholders, including family court judges and law enforcement.

"Survivors report that it is a time of stress, a time of confusion and difficulty. So if we can reduce that amount of time, that would help survivors," Theakston said.

Every day in Fayette County, an average of seven people file for protective orders every day, according to the report. 2,443 protective orders were filed in Fayette County in 2023 in total.

"I think protective orders on a case-by-case basis are very powerful," said Darlene Thomas, executive director of GreenHouse 17 in Fayette County. "And most survivors report feeling safer with a protective order because they'll get a very quick police response; the community is aware we have a statewide system that no matter where you are in the state that, it will pop up that you are protected."

Without having those protective orders in place, survivors of domestic or sexual abuse may struggle to move forward into a place of safety as they await the outcome of their petition.

Thomas is optimistic the report will help move the county toward positive change.

"I'm not just hopeful, I'm sure that we're going to figure out a better way to do this," Thomas said.

There are other options, however, for people in immediate danger. Judges can issue an "Emergency Protective Order (EPO)", which goes into effect right away. A hearing for a long-term protective order will then be set.

LEX 18 reached out to the offices of all four family court judges in Fayette County, who handle protective order petitions, in an attempt to gather their responses to the report. As of Wednesday morning, we have not heard back.

To contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline, call 800-799-SAFE (7233) or text "START" to 88788.

Below is the full report: