Idaho’s Sexual Assault Protection Order bill could become more accessible

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Rep. Melissa Wintrow was sitting in her office when the director of the Domestic Violence Center came to her to see if a bill could be worked on. The Sexual Assault Protection Order Bill is being presented for a hearing on Feb. 13 to add a statement that a person does not have to be in an intimate relationship with their abuser if they want to receive a civil protection order.

“What was happening is, sometimes, law enforcement would advise someone who was a victim of sexual assault to maybe go to the court and petition for a protection order,” Wintrow said. “Well, the way the language is written in the domestic violence act, a sexual assault survivor could not get one, unless they had a long-standing intimate partner relationship, which meant that most people could not get one.”

A civil protection order is administered to those who have previously been involved in intimate relationships with their abusers and have requested the order in a civil court, which states that whoever is causing the victim harm and fear must cease to do so. The protection orders are temporary and last for 14 days until the hearing, where they can then be granted for 90 days and up to one year, in some cases.

“We have been working so hard to get the language right and to work with the courts and law enforcement to make sure [it is right],” Wintrow said. “And that’s really the hard part in any legislation is making sure you have the language right.”

During the hearing on Feb. 13, people from the public can testify for or against the bill. Lobbyists and other government officials will speak on the matter, and then the bill is typically sent to the floor for a recommendation. The bill can also be held in committee where Jaclyn Kettler, an assistant professor in the political science department, has seen most bills fail.

“It’s easiest to talk to someone [about the legislation]because sometimes it’s the way bylaws or things are written,” Kettler said. “[It] can be very formal language and can be kind of confusing or unclear probably more than it actually is.”

The status of whether a bill has been signed by Gov. Brad Little is now posted on a new website for the public to see the standings of bills in a more accessible way. 

In the Ada County Courthouse, the Women and Children’s Alliance (WCA) has an office to assist people with filing for protection orders and working through the process. While the services are readily available, no one is required to use their assistant services, according to Erin Vlamis, the court advocate manager for the WCA.

“I definitely think that it would provide the option for more people to have orders granted,” Vlamis said. “I would say that we don’t see cases every single day where a person has been sexually assaulted by someone that they don’t have that relationship with coming in to seek that order and having it denied, but it definitely happens.”

If a victim does not want to file a criminal case report with law enforcement, they can receive a civil protection order. However, they can not receive a no-contact order. A no-contact order differs from a civil protection order, as it is attached to a criminal case and can be issued for a longer period of time than a civil protection order. 

“I think this essentially adds more relief on the civil side for victims if they’re not interested in maybe going the criminal route and filing a report and seeing if there’s the ability to have a no-contact order entered on the criminal side,” Wintrow said. “It just opens up the door for individuals to still seek safety and relief without having to go that route, which is the only option there is right now.”

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