LOUISVILLE – Former first lady Judi Patton has been recognized as a 2010 Woman of Distinction at the Celebration of Service and Survival based Center for Women and Families.
More than 600 were on hand Thursday at the downtown Louisville Marriott for the 23rd annual fundraiser for the Center.
First lady Jane Beshear and Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson applauded Patton’s work and four other honorees at a reception.
Patton was responsible for more than 20 pieces of legislation during her eight-year tenure and for creating the first Office of Child Abuse and Domestic Violence Services, making it part of the Governor’s Office.
“I wanted these issues at the forefront during my time as first lady,” Patton said.
Patton called herself a voice for those too small or weak to be heard in the Capitol.
Patton’s initial work on domestic violence and child abuse began when her husband, Paul Patton, became lieutenant governor and she served on a special task force with then-Attorney General Chris Gorman focusing on child abuse.
“I knew what I wanted to do, if Paul was elected governor,” she said.
During the next eight years, she pushed for 20 bills that strengthened protections for children, domestic violence and sexual assault survivors, created policy standards for prosecuting perpetrators and expanded training initiatives from local law enforcement to judges, doctors and nurses.
“I am not political, but I was determined. I don’t consider myself a large audience speaker and would much rather talk one on one.
“It was not easy when I began. I never thought I would stand in front of a group of mostly men and talk about subjects like rape and sexual assault,” said Patton, referring to her first appearances before the General Assembly.
“But I knew it was important and it was time to bring these issues to the forefront and take them from the backrooms. I had wonderful support from the General Assembly throughout my years in Frankfort and others working in the domestic violence and child abuse community.”
Patton says her mother, Esta Conway, a social worker in East Kentucky, inspired her for the work she accomplished.
“I am the daughter of a social worker. I can’t tell you how many nights momma brought women and children home with her to remove them from intolerable situations.
“Bringing women home with her was the only option momma had as a social worker in the '50s and '60s.”
As a result of Patton’s work, Kentucky now has 11 advocacy centers in the state’s Area Development Districts. The Jefferson County based Center for Women and Families serves seven counties in Kentucky and four in Indiana.
Patton serves on the board of Judi’s Place for Kids in Pike County. The center provides services to abused children and allows them the security of a one-stop shop for all services.
“There was a time when children were removed from a home and moved from place to place to tell their story of abuse, repeating it over and over to the adults assigned to help them.
“That was traumatizing to them. With a children’s advocacy center, all of these advocates now go to them and either directly or indirectly hear (through observation areas) their story as it is told.”
Patton said depending on where the abuse occurred, many children were transported between counties for services and court.
“We had to find a better way to help these little ones.”
The only piece of legislation that Patton was unable to get through was a bill recognizing marital rape as a crime.
Ironically, Bonnie Brown, a practicing attorney in Jefferson County, was among the five honorees. Brown led a successful decade-long campaign to pass Kentucky’s Marital Rape Bill, making sexual assault between spouses a crime.
> Gabriela Alcaide, the first Latino honored by the group. She is currently the executive director of Kentucky Health Justice Network where she works to raise awareness of improve health services for women particularly in diverse communities.
> Kathy Clemons, a formerly abused spouse who spent her career advocating for survivors of intimate partner abuse in Jefferson County. She was the first liaison to ride along with police officers responding to domestic violence calls. The program continues today in Jefferson County.
> Amy Weston Roth is executive director of the Pro Bono Program of Indiana Judicial District 14 (legal volunteers), where she pairs clients requiring legal advocacy with lawyers who volunteer their representation.
Louisville television personality Jean West served as emcee for the event, which raised more than $175,000 for the center.