Expanded and improved protective orders will be a priority for Virginia NOW in the coming legislative session and were a focus of our Legislative Task Force meeting Dec. 4. We applaud the Virginia State Crime Commission’s endorsement on Dec. 8 of an overhaul of the state’s protective order laws that would allow anyone facing a threat of violence to seek a protective order from a court.
However and unfortunately, the commission did not back a proposal to explicitly add “dating relationships” to the state’s definition of who may obtain a protective order. Advocates for victims of sexual and domestic violence strongly urged lawmakers to add “dating relationships,” citing the homicide of University of Virginia student Yeardley Love, whose ex-boyfriend and fellow UVa lacrosse player has been charged in her death. This explicit provision is especially critical to the safety of women on campus.
“While there were a lot of positive steps forward here today, we would still like to see a specific mention of dating violence,” said Gena Boyle of the Charlottesville-based Virginia Sexual and Domestic Action Alliance, in the story Dec. 9 in the Daily Progress. Ms. Boyle spoke to the NOW Legislative Task Force. Although people in dating relationships could more easily obtain a protective order if the crime commission’s recommendations are passed by the General Assembly, they are still more vulnerable than if dating relationships were specifically included.
According to the Daily Progress, Virginia has two types of protective orders, one for victims of family or household abuse and the other for victims of stalking. Stalking protective orders are more difficult to obtain, as they require a warrant to be issued for the stalker or abuser. Moreover, a violation of the state’s stalking statute requires there to be more than one threat of death, sexual assault or serious bodily injury. The crime commission endorsed a new protective order process that would do away with the requirement for a warrant; it expands the availability of protective orders to anyone with a “reasonable fear of death, criminal sexual assault or bodily injury.” The commission also recommended that the General Assembly bring the penalties for violations of stalking protective orders in line with the tougher penalties for violating family abuse protective orders. Under the tougher penalties, for example, a third violation of a stalking protective order would now become a felony. The commission rejected a proposal to expand the criteria for obtaining a protective order to include “severe emotional distress or psychological trauma.”
The commission’s recommendations will be considered during the General Assembly session that begins next month.
Please watch for action alerts from Virginia NOW. It is important that we respond quickly, to demand lawmakers take action on behalf of women’s safety.