Tuesday, August 9, 2011
Video: Protective orders expanded to cover more Texans
Lawmakers passed several bills that will expand protective orders to include pets and victims of teen dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking.
In her seven years as executive director at Aid for Victims of Domestic Violence in Houston, Jackie Pontello has witnessed some truly disturbing scenarios: battered girlfriends, spouses treated as slaves, children victimized and sexually assaulted by their own parents. They are the kind of stories that help us understand why there is a staggering number of protective orders moving through the courts in Harris County alone (nearly 225,000, according to AVDA). Pontello says the 2011 Legislature may have made some budget cuts, but they also made sweeping changes to the state's criminal statutes to protect some of the state's most vulnerable people.
In the video below, Pontello describes how some of the new protective order laws will apply to her agency's clients. Frankly, we were shocked by the stories her staff has encountered in their efforts to provide legal aid to battered women and abused children.
More Domestic Violence Victims Will Be Able to Seek Protective Orders
Pontello says a recent study indicates 5 million Texans have reported being the victim of domestic abuse at some point during their lifetimes. Perhaps surprising, she says, is that 27 percent of victims are men.
Here's a rundown of the bills lawmakers passed related to domestic abuse:
Senate Bill 279 makes pets and other companion animals eligible to be included in protective orders.
Senate Bill 116 addresses dating violence. It makes protective orders available to the new boyfriend, girlfriend or spouse of the victim.
House Bill 649 relates to the issuance and duration of protective orders for victims of sexual assault. Previously, victims had to prove there was a threat of an additional attack. Fear of an attack wasn't sufficient.
Senate Bill 250 extends protective orders to someone who is being stalked but has not been sexually assaulted or a victim of domestic abuse.
House Bill 905 allows hearsay statements of a child to be submitted to the court. Another person, such as a teacher, could report the child's observations, including whether he or she saw a parent being beaten.
Senate Bill 789 establishes “permanent” protective orders in serious cases. The victim could get a lifetime protective order without having to face his or her abuser in court. Previously, the longest duration was two years.
Though AVDA supports the new protective order rules, Pontello says she is concerned about the state's decision to cut funding for battery intervention and prevention programs statewide by 50 percent. She said she and her staff will not know until after Sept. 1 how that reduction will affect their organization's own nationally recognized Battering Intervention and Prevention Program, which provides specialized counseling so that batterers can learn to "recognize, accept responsibility for and end their abusive behavior." They are prepared to ask those clients to pay higher fees, but Pontello says that "could lead to a higher dropout rate, particularly among parolees who are having a difficult time finding employment in this economy. A higher dropout typically translates into a return to prison."
Web Resources for victims seeking a protective order:
Aid to Victims of Domestic Abuse, a non-profit that offers free legal aid to victims and specialized counseling for abusers to recognize and end their behavior.
Pegasus News Content partner - The Texas Tribune