West Virginia Advocates: Law fails stalking, rape victims

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) -- West Virginia legislators should correct a deficiency in current law that prevents most sexual assault and stalking victims from getting restraining orders against the perpetrators, advocacy groups say.

Protective orders can be issued to prevent attackers from coming near their victims, the advocates say, but only when the perpetrator is a relative or lives in the same home.

That leaves out the 70 percent of stalking victims and the 88 percent of rape victims who are attacked by other people, said Nancy Hoffman of the West Virginia Foundation for Rape Information Services.

When a suspect is arrested, a judge can order that person to avoid contact with the victim as a condition of bond, but Hoffman said less than a quarter of rape and stalking cases produce arrests. Nor are those orders issued while investigators are building cases, she told the Joint Judiciary Committee in Charleston on Tuesday.

"It's wrong for victims of crime to not have access to protection," Hoffman said.

The Charleston Daily Mail reports that legislators are receptive to the idea of fixing the problem and suggested the concerned groups work with the committee's lawyer to draft a proposed bill.

"It seems like a no-brainer to me," said Sen. Evan Jenkins, D-Cabell.

Advocates said the only potential challenge is determining whether circuit court judges or magistrates should issue the orders. Domestic violence protective orders are currently handled in family court.

State law did once allow for the issuance of peace bonds, which were similar to protective orders, but the West Virginia Supreme Court declared that law unconstitutionally broad in 1975. Legislators never replaced the language.

They considered the issue last year but failed to get a bill out of committee.

Angie Rosser of the West Virginia Coalition Against Domestic Violence called the proposed class of protective orders an "urgent and immediate need."

Hoffman said counselors and advocates could provide legislators with hundreds of stories to illustrate that need and offered one about a young rape victim who went to the hospital seeking an exam and the collection of evidence.

While she was there, her attacker came into the room and tried to convince her not to press charges.

"If the offender is brave enough to go to the hospital to try to talk her out of it," Hoffman said, "think about what's going to happen when she goes home."

Published: Thu, Nov 17, 2011