Lawmakers Hope To Close Protective Order Loophole
CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Saying current protective orders leave a dangerous loophole, some state lawmakers want them expanded to people not now covered, including some stalking victims and victims of sexual violence.
Protective orders can be a matter of life or death in cases of sexual or domestic abuse, says Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall. However, he adds, current law only applies to people who have been victimized by intimate partners, family members or members of the same household. He says people outside those categories may still be in serious danger.
"Have they physically hurt you yet? No they haven't, but they're sitting outside my home, they're stalking me, they're calling. If you go in to the police or the magistrate court, they say, 'I'm sorry, we can't do anything.' "
Kessler is lead sponsor of Senate Bill 191, which would create a new type of protective order. The full Senate is expected to take up the bill soon. Kessler says the only objection he's heard relates to when two people in a situation file conflicting protective orders against each other. However, he adds, police are trained to sort out those cases.
Lois Manns, project coordinator for the West Virginia Fund For Rape Information and Services, says rape crisis centers are seeing rape and stalking victims who don't qualify for domestic violence protective orders.
"Even in those instances where arrests are made, arrests don't always happen immediately, so you can have periods of time that can vary, where the victim is vulnerable to the offender."
Women who are victims of violence sometimes will turn to friends or family for help. The attacker may threaten these friends, Kessler says, adding that they also should be able to get protective orders.
"It sort of removes the ability for folks to be intimidated, the intimidation factor, from others other than the immediate victim, and expands it to those that might be trying to assist the victim."
Anyone who is attacked, Manns says, can call the National Rape and Sexual Assault hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673).
The text of SB 191 is online at legis.state.wv.us.