Missouri will allow domestic violence victims to ask for a lifetime order of protection against their abuser. Gov. Mike Parson has signed a bill into law today that means if a judge grants the victims a lifetime order, the victims will not have to repeatedly face their abuser in court.
Representative Lane Roberts, R-Joplin, successfully attached the language to Senate Bill 71.
“In most cases, a one-year order of protection seems to resolve trouble but there are those who are abusers who just cannot or will not take no for an answer. They are truly dangerous both the victims and the victims’ families,” says Roberts. “These are people who live in an entirely different spectrum of abuser and for a victim to have to return to court every year and invest their own money and live in constant fear in order to give themselves the limited protection that we are able to offer them is simply wrong. It just creates a visceral reaction to the unfairness of it all.”
Roberts is a former state Department of Public Safety director and also served as the Joplin Police chief in southwest Missouri.
“When you have to look someone in the eye who has been on the receiving end of this kind of abuse, it changes everything. I’m here to tell you that the women who testified in this, these are true heroes,” he says. “I frankly don’t know that I have the strength of character to do what they’ve done – to have the courage to do what they’ve done and then to go on crusading to fix it for victims yet to come.”
Roberts says one of the victims who testified at a committee hearing said she went to court 70 times over a ten-year period and spent about $42,000 of her own money to protect herself and her children.
“By any standard, that is just wrong on every level and is patently offensive that the victim should have to be subjected to that kind of burden in order to protect themselves,” he says.
If granted, that protection order would remain in place until the abuser can demonstrate that they have been rehabilitated.
“I’ll be quite candid with you, if I never do anything else during the remainder of my time in the Legislature, having passed this bill was meaningful and it’s the kind of thing that long after people have forgotten my name or whoever is involved in it, will still be able to go on helping victims of this kind abuse have some relative sense of safety,” says Roberts.
Roberts says a protection order is not a magic shield.
“It’s a piece of paper,” he says. “Those people who intend to violate the order, it wouldn’t matter whether it’s temporary, permanent, lifetime, the fact is it can be violated. But when someone violates it, there are different consequences than there would be like to an ex parte or to an abuse that predates an order. It isn’t necessarily an answer to everything, but it is a level of protection that gives the victim some protection.”
If an abuser violates an order, he says the victim does not have to start from scratch explaining the situation to an officer who shows up to respond. The officer can then act.
Missouri law prohibits courts from charging adult abuse and stalking victims an advance filing fee or bond when they file petitions for protection.
Colleen Coble is the CEO of the Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence. She says the bill is going to bring the state’s order of protection law more in line with the experiences and needs of survivors of domestic violence, stalking and sexual assault.
“For years we’ve known that those in really extreme danger who are subject to ongoing abuse really need an order of protection to last longer than a year. The provisions of Senate Bill 71 will allow judges to do that – to hold hearings and identify those in really dangerous situations and be able to extend the orders so victims are not subjected to risk every time they have to keep going back to court to get their orders renewed,” says Coble.
In Missouri, organizations are serving about 30,000 victims each year through residential and non-residential programs. She says there are more than 26,000 other victims requesting services but going without help.
Under the bill, sponsored by Senator Elaine Gannon, R-De Soto, pets could also be added to an order of protection.
“It is a tactic of abusers to harm or threaten pets to prevent their victims from leaving. We know that pets are a part of your family that you don’t leave behind,” says Coble.
According to Coble, the last time Missouri had this many orders of protection provisions in one bill might have been in 2000.
“It’s quite an achievement,” she says. “It was bipartisan and it was really to the credit of survivors who came forward and told their stories that this bill is going to signed into law today. I can’t emphasize that enough.”
The bill also expands the definition of stalking to include the use of third parties and electronic devices to stalk someone.
Roberts says the bill is a good first step, but more needs to be done. Coble agrees. She says the Second Amendment Preservation Act, recently signed into law by Gov. Mike Parson, has an impact.
She says a loophole in a 2016 state law should be closed that allows abusers convicted of domestic violence or those with a protection order against them to have guns.
“Unfortunately, Missouri is now second in the nation in the number of women who are killed by men. Those are primarily domestic violence homicides and the primary weapon used is a handgun. So, we have homicide prevention work to do,” she says.
To view Senate Bill 71, click here.
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