Utah House bill would provide protection to victims of dating violence and abuse

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SALT LAKE CITY — A bill attempting to provide protective measures to victims of dating violence and abuse in Utah passed nine to zero in a House Judiciary Committee meeting on Feb. 6.

Current Utah Code protects only victims of violence in situations of prior or current co-habitation with their abuser. Rep. Jennifer Seelig, D-Salt Lake City, sponsored HB50 to close the gap in policy that prevents individuals in social or romantic relationships from receiving government protection from violent abuse. If passed, the bill will provide 180 days of protection to the victim, violation of which would result in a class B misdemeanor to the perpetrator.

Rep. Jennifer Seelig, D-Salt Lake City, minority leader in the Utah House of Representatives, sponsored HB50. (Photo courtesy Utah House of Representatives)

Jon Bambrough appeared at the meeting to testify for his daughter Ashley, a victim of extreme abuse by her boyfriend of three years. On July 2, 2011, Ashley’s boyfriend beat her unconscious, pushed her out of his truck at 65 mph, and left her for dead on the side of the road.

“The first time I saw Ashley in the hospital, she was almost unrecognizable,” Bambrough said. “She was soaked in blood, her head was shaved and the flesh had been torn from the right side of her face and body. The back of her head was shattered, and she spent several weeks in the hospital … To this day, she struggles from the effects of this attack … No one should ever have to go through this.”

Ashley and her boyfriend had lived together for three short weeks a year prior to her attack, and she was therefore able to place a restraining order against him. However, if their dating relationship had never included a stint of living together, Utah law would have prevented Ashley from acquiring any form of protection against her abuser.

“If this attack would have happened on their first date, or their 10th date or even their 100th date, she would not have been able to obtain that protective order,” Brambrough said. “It is time we start holding these abusers accountable for their actions and stop enabling them … This bill would help do just that.”

Ashley is not alone, as dating violence is not uncommon in Utah. A 2010 Utah Crimes Survey found that 9.9 percent of violent personal crime is caused by a boyfriend or girlfriend.

According to the 2007 Rape in Utah Survey, 15.7 percent of rapes and 17.8 percent of attempted rapes against Utah women were committed by boyfriends or ex-boyfriends. A total of 15 dating homicides occurred in Utah between 2004 and 2011.

After Seelig’s presentation, committee members raised various concerns regarding the bill. Rep. Brian Greene (R-Pleasant Grove) mentioned the possibility that an individual could take advantage of protection where inappropriate, perhaps to seek revenge on an ex-boyfriend or ex-girlfriend. “I would feel much better if there were something in the bill that specifically had a penalty for improper use of this statute,” he said.

Seelig then cited the portion of the bill that addresses such misuses and their penalty of felony prosecution.

The committee unanimously approved the bill but suggested that certain amendments be made to clarify more specifically the qualifications for protection from dating violence.

Having already achieved unanimous support from both the Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Interim Committees, the bill now moves to the House Floor for debate.

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