Earlier this week, Attorney General Andy Beshear joined the director of his Office of Victims Advocacy, Gretchen Hunt, and 27 survivors of violent crime in the state Capitol Rotunda to announce the formation of a Survivors Council.
Members of the council will advise and assist the Office of Attorney General on matters related to victims of crime, including advancing victim-centered services, trainings and policy, and raising awareness.
Beshear said the Survivors Council brings together individuals who have survived the violent death of a family member, sexual assault, child sexual abuse, domestic violence, gun violence and other violent crimes to help improve responses to victims in the state.
“These survivors have persevered through the unimaginable, they have real courage and know firsthand what is needed to seek and ensure justice for victims,” said Beshear. “I am thankful to each member for their willingness to devote their time and passion to help pave a better way for other survivors.”
The council will be housed within Beshear’s Office of Victims Advocacy whose mission is to support victims’ rights and victim advocacy programs statewide. The work of the council will be woven into current office initiatives, including the Victim Assistance Conference, Victims’ Rights Day and ongoing training of law enforcement and prosecutors.
“Being victim-centered means that survivors have a seat at the table, not simply to share their story of victimization, but to share their wisdom and insight on how to make the process better for other victims,” said Gretchen Hunt, director of the Office of Victims Advocacy.
A selection of 27 survivor members occurred following an open nomination and application process conducted by the Office of Victims Advocacy.
“As a survivor of child marriage and sexual exploitation, I am thrilled to serve alongside other survivors on this council, knowing the diversity of our experiences will bring powerful contributions to our advocacy,” said council member Donna Pollard. “This council is critical for ensuring victims have the holistic support they deserve. Now is our time to prevent further victimization through improved legislation and educational means.”
“As the father of a survivor who was assaulted, I would like to thank Attorney General Beshear and Director Gretchen Hunt for the opportunity to serve in this endeavor,” said Bradford McClain, council member.
“After my 16-year-old son was shot and killed four years ago, I became disheartened, disappointed and realized there were little to no services or resources for victims’ families,” said council member Tonya Lindsey. “I am very humbled and honored to be appointed to the Survivors Council, where we will work to ensure a positive new direction for Kentucky, one that will better serve and accommodate the needs of victims. Who can tell you better what victims’ needs and concerns are than victims.”
The Survivors Council is the first of its kind in any Attorney General’s office nationwide and the United States Advisory Council on Human Trafficking served as inspiration for the council.
The council will meet quarterly and members can serve up to a two-year term.
Beshear said the Survivors Council announcement comes after a year of great progress on one of his office’s core missions of seeking justice for victims of sexual assault, human trafficking, violent crime and child abuse.
In 2016, Beshear made good on his promise to help end Kentucky’s sexual assault forensic exam (SAFE) kit backlog by providing $4.5 million in settlement money to lawmakers to fund requested Kentucky State Police crime lab upgrades.
Beshear’s office provided an additional $1 million from the settlement to aid law enforcement and prosecutors in conducting victim-centered investigations and prosecuting sexual assault offenders.
Most recently, Beshear announced that his office is launching a collaborative research project with the University of Louisville to provide accountability in Kentucky’s efforts to address the backlog and provide justice to victims.
In addition to helping victims of sexual assault, Beshear established the AG’s office as the leading agency fighting human trafficking, a modern-day form of slavery that often involves children forced into sex or labor trading.
His office provided technical assistance on 32 potential human trafficking incidents, which helped identify at least two underage human trafficking victims, and became the first Kentucky government agency to receive a federal human trafficking grant.
In 2016, Beshear’s Cyber Crimes Unit fought back against child sexual abuse by working to arrest more online child predators than any year in the history of the office. The number of arrests, indictments and convictions last year totaled nearly 80.
The Survivors Council is the latest effort to ensure that the work of Kentucky’s Office of the Attorney General remains victim-centered and improves the safety and lives of Kentucky’s citizens.