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Beshear announces initiatives against sex assaults, hunger during local visit

By LAUREL BLACK lblack@paducahsun.com

Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear visited western Kentucky on Monday, making two stops in McCracken County to announce initiatives aimed at eliminating sexual assault and relieving hunger.

Beshear appeared at Western Kentucky Community and Technical College alongside Lori Brown, executive director of the Purchase Area Sexual Assault and Child Advocacy Center, to announce the #VoiceofJustice video contest.

The competition is intended to raise awareness around sexual assault and engage the campus community in preventing and reporting acts of sexual violence.

"Campus sexual assault is one of the most significant threats to our young people. In 2015, one in five women and one in 16 men were sexually assaulted on Kentucky's (public) college campuses, yet only 36 sexual assaults were reported to law enforcement," he told an audience of students and faculty.

Video submissions for the contest must be 30 seconds long and contain the 24/7 Sexual Assault Helpline Number, which is 1-800-656-4673. They must meet the requirements of raising awareness surrounding sexual assault; encouraging active bystanders to prevent sexual assault; and emphasizing the reporting, investigation and prosecution of sexual assault.

"Of all sexual assaults out there, we believe that only 3 percent are prosecuted. Three percent. That's not acceptable," he said. "This is one way that we can start to change that startling statistic."

Videos will be eligible for one of two $500 awards. Beshear said "a group of experts" will evaluate the videos and grant one of the awards, while the other award will be given to the video that receives the most "likes" on social media. Entries are due April 1. Beshear said links to information on the video contest are available at ag.ky.gov/family/victims/voice-of-justice.

The Democratic attorney general then visited Paducah Cooperative Ministry to announce a statewide contest of a different flavor: the "Legal Food Frenzy" Hunger-Relief Competition, which challenges the legal community to raise 600,000 pounds of food, or $150,000, by April 7.

"This is a creative project and a great way to help a lot of people," PCM Executive Director Heidi Suhrheinrich said, adding that the food bank helps about 450 families every month.

Nearly one in six adults and one in five children in Kentucky face a lack of access to sufficient food, Beshear said.

"No parent should have to choose between paying bills, paying for health care and buying groceries for their family," he said, "but 32 percent of Kentucky households served by food banks report having to make this decision every month."

The inaugural competition is a collaborative effort among the office of the attorney general, the Kentucky Association of Food Banks, the Kentucky Bar Association Young Lawyers Division and the Office of the Secretary of State.

Hoisting the large, silver trophy that the winner will receive, Beshear added, "If this can't get a lawyer competitive, I don't know what can. But in all seriousness, we needed to go big â ¦ because the need out there is so large."

Mayor Brandi Harless and City Commissioner Allan Rhodes attended the meeting to express interest in the city's participation.

Participating law schools, law firms and other members of the legal community have from March 27 to April 7 to raise the food and funds.

Although Beshear's visit, which also included a stop in Marshall County to speak to seniors about scams, was focused on nonpartisan issues, some political issues surfaced during the public's interaction with him.

One woman at WKCTC expressed concern over losing her medical coverage and being unable to afford prescriptions she needs.

"We're fighting that as hard as we can," Beshear said.

Another woman at the college asked about the implications of House Bill 281 in funding initiatives from the attorney general's office. The bill relates to how the attorney general's office handles outside contracts and caps fees that outside lawyers can collect.

Last week, Kentucky Senate Republicans made a last-minute addition to the bill that would strip an attorney general's power to represent the state in many kinds of civil lawsuits. The governor would be granted the power to handle them instead.

Beshear told listeners at WKCTC that the move would be detrimental to the system of checks and balances within Kentucky's government.

"I don't think you ever should decide these things based on who's there now," Beshear said.

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