Domestic Violence Awareness Started Early in Leader's Life

by John Gregory | 08/14/14 5:57 PM

In conversation, Marta Miranda's words are wrapped with the accent of her native Cuba, and punctuated with her passion for helping survivors of domestic violence.

For four years, Miranda has been the President and Chief Empowerment Officer of the Louisville-based Center for Women and Families, which provides shelter and support services to victims of intimate partner violence in nine counties in Kentucky and southern Indiana. Miranda talked about her work with KET's Renee Shaw for a recent edition of Connections.

Both men and women can be victims of domestic violence, and the issue touches people at all socio-economic levels. Miranda says her organization has sheltered a range of clients including white-collar professionals and health care executives. She says the dynamics of abuse are incredibly complex, which can make ending a violent relationship difficult and even dangerous: Miranda explains that when a victim leaves, they are 75 percent more likely to be killed by their abuser.

Moving From Response to Prevention
The Center started in 1912 in a one-room office in a Louisville YMCA. Today the independent non-profit has three locations that provide emergency and long-term housing for victims and their families, as well as outpatient counseling and economic training programs.

In recent years, Miranda says the organization has expanded its focus to put more emphasis on violence prevention efforts across the community. The Center sponsors intervention training for children and adults to help break the cycle of domestic abuse. Miranda explains that bystanders who witness a potentially violent situation can intervene with techniques as simple as calling the police or creating some kind of distraction.

In her own counseling work, Miranda has seen the need for more batterer-prevention programs as well. Outside of any criminal prosecutions, she says perpetrators must be shown the effects their violent behaviors have on their families, and they must be held accountable for their actions by their peers as well as others in their communities.

Domestic Violence Legislation in Kentucky
Miranda praises activists in the commonwealth who made Kentucky a leader among American states in dealing with domestic violence issues over the years. But she laments recent political activities that she believes have undermined that progress.

For example, Miranda says Kentucky is now the only state in the country that doesn't offer protections to dating violence among couples. She says current state law only covers people who are married, have a child in common, or live together. Without language to cover dating relationships, Miranda argues that couples, especially in high school or college as well as the elderly, are vulnerable to potential abuse. A fifth attempt in five years to pass such legislation failed in the 2014 Kentucky General Assembly.

Another measure that was signed into law this year grants abuse victims covered by an emergency protective order a temporary permit to carry a concealed weapon, even without receiving firearms training. Miranda contends the law actually creates a greater potential for danger because she says the chance of someone (perpetrator, victim, or bystander) getting killed in a domestic violence situation increase by 500 percent when a gun is present.

An Early Start to Her Advocacy
Miranda's dedication to advocating for victims of violence started when she was a child living in rural Cuba. She was eight-years old when she asked her alcoholic uncle why he beat his wife. The uncle said it was none of her business, and the aunt told Miranda that, with four children, she couldn't afford to leave her husband.

"I knew there was something absolutely wrong with that picture," Miranda says. "At a very early age I understood that there were things happening that women had to do because they were economically trapped in situations. They needed to protect their children beyond protecting themselves."

After leaving Cuba, Miranda lived in Miami and Mt. Vernon, Ky., before taking over the women and gender studies program at Eastern Kentucky University. She left that position after 17 years to lead the Center for Women and Families in Louisville.

Watch the full Connections interview.