A new law will make it easier for victims in abusive relationships obtain a protective order, according to lawmakers and authorities.
The law will mostly impact victims who do not share a home with their abuser, said Sen. George Barker (D-39), who introduced the bill in the 2010 session. It was signed into law by the governor last week.
The change brings Virginia in line with over 40 states with expanded protective order criteria, Barker said.
“The way that the law has been up to now, if you are threatened or abused from someone who is in your household, you had the right to get a protective order against them. If not, then you did not get that protection,” said Barker, who represents Fairfax Station, Lorton, and portions of Springfield.
A protective order is a civil order issued by a judge that protects one person from another’s threatening behavior, according to the state’s Department of Criminal Justice Services. If an abuser violates he civil order, that person can be sent to jail.
When Barker initially introduced SB 1222, it was directed to the Virginia Crime Commission for review. Interest in the issue was renewed after the May 2010 murder of a University of Virginia lacrosse player Yeardley Love. Her boyfriend, another lacrosse player, George Huguely, has been charged in the crime.
"Protective orders have been found to be very effective," Barker said. "They have the potential to save lives."
The Fairfax County Police Department responded to 7,937 domestic violence related calls for service in 2009, according to the department’s website. Over 2,000 emergency family abuse protective orders and preliminary protective orders were filed.
“Our violence experts are optimistic that this could be a positive change in providing protection for victims,” said Lucy Caldwell, public information officer for the department.
Caldwell went on to say that previously, victims of domestic violence who did not live with their abuser would have been required to file criminal charges if they wanted protection.
“In the past, you had to go to a magistrate to seek a warrant of arrest for an individual and that’s difficult for many people to do for a lot of reasons,” Caldwell said.
“It will provide additional resources and protection for victims of dating violence,” Caldwell said. “Now we have to work to get the word out."