December 4 – Throughout his career in law enforcement, including as Joplin Police Chief, Missouri lawmaker Lane Roberts has said he often sees perpetrators of domestic violence abusing the courts for manipulate and intimidate their victims.
Roberts Rep. R-Joplin hopes to fill the gaps with pre-tabled legislation that would establish additional protections for victims of assault and eliminate avenues of exploitation. Roberts was the Joplin Police Chief from 2007 to 2014. He also served as the Oregon and Washington City Police Chief.
The effort, he said, is his effort to fix things he has known for some time to be wrong. “These are things that I have been dealing with for several decades. Even at the very beginning, I knew that abusers took advantage of them, that victims were often the target, and the law was not doing all it could really do for them. protect.”
By trying to ensure due process, Roberts said, the law may unintentionally re-victimize the victim. For example, having to face your abuser in court in order to receive a protection order year after year can be very traumatic.
“Over the years I have become more detail-oriented, wondering what we could have done,” said Roberts. “Previously, I had to explain to some victims why we couldn’t do this because the law didn’t provide for it. That’s the nature of the law. You can or you can’t. There is no zone. gray. What we’re looking at here is an opportunity for me to fix, modify, or create protections for things that have loopholes, things that could be avoided, or things that weren’t provided for by law. “
Roberts said many survivors must make tactical plans just to get in and out of the courthouse to escape their attackers. Domestic violence centers in the region work with survivors on security plans, maintaining control and advocating for justice. Managers at the two nearby shelters – Lafayette House and Safehouse Crisis Center – praise Roberts’ efforts to advocate for survivors of domestic violence.
Brooke Powell, executive director of the Safehouse Crisis Center in Pittsburg, Kansas, said abusers are very manipulative and use the power of intimidation to gain control.
“The abusers know what they are doing,” said Powell. “They are very good at their trade. I know from experience that when we go to court with the victim for the protection order hearing, the abuser will then say, ‘I did not have these documents. I was not served. I did not know. It pushes everything back and it deflates for the victim because she is doing everything she can to try to stay safe. “
Susan Hickam, executive director of Lafayette House in Joplin, said if abusers are willing to hurt the person they love, then they don’t care how they treat a justice system, a law enforcement officer order or whoever.
“They are going to do whatever they can to get the results they want, and that even goes with the courts,” she said. “Finding loopholes in any legal process or in any language of the law is part of what they do because it is what they practice in their everyday life.”
Elements of the bill
A clause in the bill would allow victims to testify on camera instead of going to court in person, which Powell described as a “game changer” for victims who can encourage others to come forward. their attackers. The online method prevents the perpetrator from knowing when and where a victim will be.
“With video conferencing, you eliminate that potential for close contact,” Hickam said. “Also, when we are in court, you put an additional risk when a victim enters the courtroom and leaves the courtroom, because what we know about abusers is that there is at risk of criminal harassment. “
Other provisions of the measure would prevent the author from claiming ignorance or failing to appear after receiving a court notice for a protection order. If a protection order is properly served and the respondent does not appear in court on the day of the hearing, he is (still) responsible for being aware of all the terms contained in the judgment.
“When a respondent receives a notice, it serves to inform them of all the conditions that arise from it, and we will assume that they are aware,” said Roberts. “Right now, sometimes people plead ignorance, ‘I don’t know. I wasn’t here for the hearing.’ Having said that, if you do receive the notice, then you know there will be conditions which will be your responsibility. “
Another element of the bill would protect personal information by not disclosing the home or workplace addresses of victims and their witnesses when they testify in court, unless the court deems it necessary.
“Victims or their family members do not have to disclose their addresses or their work locations, which is common knowledge, and obviously for their own safety,” said Roberts.
The measure, House Bill 1699, can also hold the author liable for attorney fees during and after judgment.
“This is mainly a problem where a woman has to get help, and it gets too expensive,” Roberts said. “The respondent doesn’t want to pay and finds ways to get by. It basically says that whatever the judge says he’s going to pay, he’s going to pay, and that will be throughout the process, not just for some part of it. “
The remaining clauses of the bill, such as whether the respondent pays $ 1,000 to a local domestic violence shelter or not be offered a plea bargain in a domestic violence case, are currently under review and could be changed.
“The content of this bill is too important to sacrifice for one or two specific elements,” said Roberts. “If necessary, I will modify or remove these elements to ensure that the bill has a good chance of being passed.”
Roberts successfully proposed HB 292 during the 2021 legislative session to strengthen state criminal harassment laws, allowing protection orders to be extended up to a lifetime; include pets in protection orders; and amends the definition of “harassment” to include the use of technologies such as social media, GPS or the use of third parties. These changes became law in June.
Hickam said that no matter what a law says, it’s important to constantly watch how the language is written and update all metrics to meet today’s standards.
“It’s because things change in our daily life, we always have to look at these things,” she said. “We must be prepared to move forward and make these changes to our laws in a consistent manner, to meet the needs here and now.”