Victims of domestic abuse would be able to get lifetime orders of protection from abusers under a bill offered in the Missouri House.
Missouri law allows for orders of protection that last for one year. That means victims who want continued protection must go back to court annually to seek extensions. This forces them to repeatedly face their abuser and relive what they went through. Representative Lane Roberts (R-Joplin), former chief of the Joplin Police and director of the Department of Public Safety, says that’s wrong.
“There are people who deal with abusive friends, ex-friends, ex-boyfriends, family members, and they never get respite,” said Roberts. “Try to envision what it would be like to have to deal with something like this for two or three years and every year you’ve got to go back and get a protection order, repeatedly. Then it dries up for a couple of years. The protection order expires, the individual comes back, takes up where they left off, the police are called. You get an officer who’s never heard of this before or you go in front of a judge who’s never seen it before, and the whole nightmare starts over.”
“I can tell you from personal experience that when you have to look a woman in the eye and explain to her why the law won’t protect her, it is very difficult, and they shouldn’t have to live that way,” said Roberts. “I think this is frankly a fairly significant step to correct what I think should be common sense.”
Janice Thompson Gehrke is a survivor and now works with and for victims. She told the House Committee on Judiciary people often ask her why they shake when they have to go to court, including the repeated appearances to renew an order of protection.
“What’s happening is your body’s natural response of an adrenaline dump telling you, you are in danger. You’re in danger because you’re putting yourself in the same place as a person that is a real danger to you. In spite of every instinct in your body telling you to run, here you are doing what you have been told are the necessary steps to keep legal protections for yourself in place,” said Thompson Gehrke.
Lisa Saylor told the committee that since 2011 she has spent more than $45,000 in court costs, in part from having to repeatedly renew orders of protection. If she doesn’t retain an attorney she runs the risk that her abuser could personally cross-examine her in a courtroom.
“I was exhausted from my fight mentally, physically, emotionally, financially, just trying to stay safe from my abuser. How much could one system put a victim through and expect them to survive this journey?” asked Saylor.
The legislation, House Bill 744, would allow an order of protection to be in place through the life of the abuser. The committee has not voted on it.
Gehrke = (GER-kee)