Protection a possibility for sexual abuse victims in Missouri

“This bill is important because it leaves no doubt in the law that sexual abuse is included when courts are making judgements in abuse cases,” Rep. Marsha Haefner, R-St. Louis, said. “I know it sounds a bit redundant but many felt there was a need to furt

For the first time, victims of sexual assault and rape in Missouri can obtain protection orders against their assailant, due to a recent addition to Senate Bill 321.

The bill was originally written in 1980 to give victims of domestic violence and stalking protection, but did not provide protection for rape and sexual assault victims until the new version became effective on Aug. 28. The bill passed without any opposition.

“Quite honestly in my five years in the legislature that has been the easiest bill I’ve ever carried,” said the bill’s sponsor Rep. Bill Lant, R-Pineville. “Abuse and neglect problems, if we bring them to light, are a totally bipartisan situation and no matter which side comes up with the idea, we try to move that idea forward and come to a solution.”

The bill’s other sponsor, Sen. Dan Hegeman, R-Cosby, said the addition was introduced after the parents of an adopted child approached the representatives looking for a “tool” to protect their daughter from her biological father who had sexually assaulted her. They then looked to advocates, including the Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, for advice on what help could be offered in situations like this.

Grey areas in the bill caused confusion as to who could be protected before, so definition changes and additions were made to the bill to add clarity, Rep. Marsha Haefner, R-St. Louis, said.

“This bill is important because it leaves no doubt in the law that sexual abuse is included when courts are making judgements in abuse cases,” Haefner said. “I know it sounds a bit redundant but many felt there was a need to further clarify types of abuse.”

In 2013, there were 2,138 cases for rape in the state of Missouri, according to the Missouri State Highway Patrol Statistical Analysis Center’s Crime in Missouri report. This was a 41.6 percent jump from the prior year, partly caused by the FBI’s change in definition of the word “rape,” which now includes males.

In 2014, 63 rapes were reported to the Columbia Police Department, and seven rapes were reported to the MUPD. In total, rape accounted for 16.2 percent of all violent crimes reported to both departments.

Lant hopes that this revision to the bill will not only protect victims, but also work toward sexual assault and rape prevention.

“It will bring to light some of these people that have perpetrated these crimes, hopefully it will cut down on the incidences,” Lant said. “But it will certainly protect them from a repeated (offense). That’s another one of those things that’s a nasty little secret about sexual assault — it is not generally a one time occurrence. Generally it recurs, particularly in younger people.”

According to Health Research Funding, sex offenders have a 37 percent re-offense rate and rapists have a repeat rate of up to 35 percent. Their research shows that offenders who already have a history of sexual crimes are even more likely to repeat the crime than first time offenders.

Hegeman believes that since 1980, societal changes have made the new protection offering possible.

“I think that society has changed, I think our views on sexual assault have changed, and I think we identify as a concern that we really need to give some attention to and we need to provide these tools,” Hegeman said. “You know I’ve got two daughters and two sons and if any of the four of my kids had been assaulted I sure would want to have some tools out there to provide protection from their assailants as they may be going through the system.”

Although the bill received wide support, some believe the issue of protection orders for sexual assault victims was put aside for 35 years because a bill had to be changed for the protection to be offered.

“I think that it takes a little bit (of time) for the stories of what happens to sexual assault individuals to make their way to the legislative ears to where they hear and understand what’s taken place and what can be helpful in guaranteeing the safety of these individuals,” Rep. Diane Franklin, R-Camdenton, said. “Unfortunately because you have to change the law that’s a bit of a process.”

Lant said that the climate in politics right now will allow any protective laws to be viewed favorably. In the next year, he thinks there will be more legislature to bring attention to victim protection.

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