Bill seeks justice, security for sexual assault survivors across Missouri

Senate Bill 321 would provide survivors of sexual assault with an order of protection and revise the definition of stalking.

A bill introduced in the state Senate on Jan. 27 is making progress within the General Assembly in an attempt to alter the script on sexual assault and stalking. Senate Bill 321 aims to enact 14 new sections relating to court orders of protection and the prohibition of contact between sexual offenders and corresponding survivors of sexual assault.

In order to do this, the bill modified definitions of stalking and sexual assault. Assault is defined in the bill’s text as “purposely or knowingly placing or attempting to place another in fear of physical harm,” something that has been the subject of many discussions on college campuses recently. Rather than the previous definition, the updated version is more broad and encompasses all instances of assault without consent.

“We quickly realized that the state currently issues orders of protection only for victims of stalking and domestic violence, but not victims of sexual assault, which are some of the people who are most in need of protection,” said Richard Germinder, legislative staff member for the office of Sen. Dan Hegeman, R-Cosby, who is the current bill sponsor. “We found that expanding orders of protection was actually more effective and would be easier for prosecutors to use in protecting victims of sexual assault.”

In addition to setting out courses of action for sexual assault survivors, the bill also delves into the issue of stalking, which is explained in the text as any instance in which “any person purposely (and repeatedly) engages in an unwanted course of conduct that causes alarm to another person, or a person who resides together in the same household with the person seeking the order of protection when it is reasonable in that person’s situation to have been alarmed by the conduct.”

Repeated, in this context, means two or more incidents providing evidence of continued, purposeful, unwanted communication or contact.

This specification of the number of incidents within the bill illustrates the change from previous legislation. With this bill, two instances of unwanted contact or communication would allow for someone to file on behalf of a member of a household and to have the chance to order issues of protection, whereas before, the use of the word “repeatedly” was up for interpretation, Germinder said.

In 2012, 46 cases of rape and 396 cases of assault were reported within Boone County alone, according to a comprehensive county facts sheet released by the Missouri State Highway Patrol Statistical Analysis Center,

Across the entire state of Missouri, between 2011 and 2012, instances of rape increased by 3.6 percent, and in 2012, a total of 76 homicides were the result of domestic violence.

In 2012, reported forcible rape offenses totaled 1,510, making the occurrence of rape within the state of Missouri 25 people per every 100,000.

According to the Disaster Center, violent crime rates in Missouri increased a total of 5.89 percent in rapes reported in 2012 and 2013.

In order to combat these issues and to fight for proper security, the bill offers these survivors of sexual assault or stalking the option of either of two forms of orders of protection: ex parte or full.

“Really, whether ex parte or full, these orders of protection are pieces of paper, and our police are really great with dealing with these orders of protection if and when the piece of paper is not enough to keep assailants away,” said Vicki Kitchen, Safe Passage Domestic Violence Crisis Intervention Services legal advocate. “I know our coalition would love for legislators to help all of the shelters out.”

The ex parte order of protection is defined in Section A of the bill’s text as an order of protection issued by the court prior to the respondent’s notice of the petition or an opportunity to be heard. The full order of protection, alternatively, is issued following a hearing that took place on the record within which the respondent received notice of the proceedings and had an opportunity to be heard.

These protective orders act to restrain the respondent from either committing or threatening to commit various forms of abuse. These forms include, but are not limited to, domestic violence, sexual assault, molestation or disturbing the peace of the petitioner in any way should they be present within the state of Missouri.

Within 15 days following the filing of a petition, petitioners are granted a hearing wherein, if sufficient evidence is supplied and the respondent is unable to prove that his/her actions were justifiable by law, one form of the aforementioned orders of protection will be issued by the court.

These orders will be held valid within a court of law for 180 days to no longer than a year. However, renewals may be granted if the court finds that it is in the best interest of both parties.

“It’s important to remember that victims of sexual violence experience the trauma in individual ways,” said Emily Truscott, communications director for the Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence. “Some might report it to police, and some choose not to. Some may seek help from a counselor or other advocate, and some won’t. Some may report it right away, and others, years later.”

The bill has cleared the Senate and now faces a select House committee. The executive judiciary session for SB 321 will take place within the House on May 5.

“As people who are victimized try to determine the best decision for them in their personal situations, it’s important that they have options, services and resources available to them,” Truscott said. “This law would provide just one more option.”

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