House votes to offer lifetime orders of protection to domestic abuse victims

      The House wants victims of domestic abuse to be able to get lifetime orders of protection against their abusers.  That would be possible under a bill sent to the Senate this week.

      Orders of protection are generally only effective for one year.  House Bill 744 would allow a judge, after a review of the case, to issue one for the lifetime of the abuser.

Representative Lane Roberts (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

      It is sponsored by former Department of Public Safety Director and former Joplin Police Chief, Representative Lane Roberts (R-Joplin).

      “I spent a great deal of my life having to look women in the eye and explain to them why I could not do what I knew needed to be done to help them, and I had to leave them living in fear and could not put a stop to it.  Finally I find myself in a position to actually do something about it,” said Roberts.  “If I never do anything more in this body than pass this particular bill I will still have made a contribution that I’ll take home and feel good about.”

      Under the bill a judge considering whether an order should last for a lifetime would consider the evidence of the case; the history of abuse, stalking, and threatening; an abuser’s criminal record; previous orders of protection; and whether the respondent has violated probation or parole, or previous orders of protection.

      Lane said the women who bravely came to testify on his bill shared stories of horrific abuse that had continued for years.

      “26-week pregnant women being beaten with a shovel, women who were sexually abused in a hospital while they were medicated, ex-fiancées being shot and paralyzed, women beaten so badly that they have to have facial reconstruction,” said Roberts.

      “The victims of this find themselves going to court every single year when it goes on and on.  In one case one of these victims has been to court 68 times in nine years,” said Roberts. 

      Kansas City representative Mark Ellebracht (D) is an attorney who has counseled women who are experiencing abuse.  He said it is more than frustrating to know that they must go back to court every year to deal with the case.

Representative Mark Ellebracht (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

      “Often when they go back to court, their abuser [can represent himself], which means he gets to cross-examine her and ask her very sensitive, very personal questions and harass her again in front of a court because of the way the system works.  This bill is designed to fix that,” said Ellebracht.  “It’s a very, very good bill.”  

      The bill would also allow courts to include pets in dealing with domestic abuse.  This would include awarding possession of a pet and considering abuse or threatened abuse of a pet in making decisions in the case.  Legislators said often abusers threaten or harm a pet in an effort to control or terrorize a victim.

       The House voted 151-2 to send that legislation to the Senate.

Earlier stories:

Lifetime order of protection would be possible under House proposal

Representative, former police chief, proposes tighter stalking laws

Pronouncers:

Ellebracht = EL-eh-brockt

Lifetime order of protection would be possible under House proposal

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.

Lisa Saylor told House members this represents the paperwork she has accumulated since 2011, in dealing with the court system while working to protect herself from an abuser.

      “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. 

Representative Lane Roberts (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

      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.

Pronunciations:

Gehrke = (GER-kee)