By Senator Christopher B. Shank
Protective orders are one of our strongest tools for preventing future sexual and domestic violence. In Maryland, our current statutes are too narrow and do not offer adequate protection for victims who have been sexually assaulted or are in a dating relationship with an abuser. Last session, I introduced SB359. This bill would have expanded the necessary criteria of a Protective Order to include all survivors of sexual and dating violence.
Maryland remains one of the few states that do not allow people in dating relationships to ask the courts for a Protective Order. Instead these victims may seek a Peace Order; similarly, victims of sexual assault are also limited to Peace Orders in cases where they are not in a long-standing relationship with the abuser that would qualify as domestic violence. While the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee was generally supportive of the concept of expanding protection for victims of dating and sexual violence, the consensus was that last session’s bill needed some more work to flesh out the specifics. So I will be re-submitting the bill based on a successful law from New York State this upcoming session.
Two incidents in Washington County acted as catalysts for this legislation. In 2011 Cheri Myers was assaulted and had her vehicle stolen by her ex-boyfriend and Heather Harris was shot and killed by her former partner. Under current law, neither Cherie Myers nor Heather Harris qualified for a Protective Order from their former partners; they were only able to obtain Peace Orders since they were “only” in dating relationships. Ms. Myers, who testified in favor of the bill, was brutally assaulted and Ms. Harris lost her life. A Protective Order could have made a difference in both cases.
There are significant differences in the consequences and enforcement of Peace Orders and Protective Orders. In an article from the Herald Mail, Washington County's Deputy State's Attorney, Joseph Michael described these differences:
"Protective orders usually involve abuse within intimate relationships in which the parties are either married or divorced, or lived together,” according to previous reports in The Herald-Mail
. Peace orders usually are issued in cases of less intimate relationships. In the case of a protective order, police are notified and law-enforcement agencies "have programs to monitor these cases…”
It is well known that the justice system does not regard Peace Orders with the same degree of intensity as Protective Orders. Peace Orders are shorter in duration and receive less monitoring by law enforcement. Yet the abusers often know details about their victims’ lives and have many of the same motives as abusers who live with or are married to their victims. Sexual abuse and violence within a dating relationship require the special attention that is given through a Protective Order. There are currently 41 states where violence within dating relationships fall under the Protective Order statute. Moving these cases under the Protective Order status would be an easier transition and would not be wasting limited funding to create a new program.
Protective Orders are much more expansive for victims like Cherie Myers and Heather Harris compared to what can be done under a Peace Order. That is why we need to pass legislation that will expand the definition of a “person eligible for relief” to include people in dating relationships and all victims of sexual violence. It is my intent that by including those in intimate relationships the option of requesting a Protective Order, we can prevent future tragedies.
Senator Christopher B. Shank has been a Member of the Maryland State Senate since January 12, 2011 representing District 2 in Washington County. He previously served in the House of Delegates. He currently serves on the Judicial Proceedings Committee and Joint Committee on Federal Relations. Senator Shank is a long-time advocate for victims of child abuse and a recipient of the Maryland Children’s Alliance Justice for Children Award.
This article appeared in the Winter 2013 issue of Frontline