The bill fills a gap in code by protecting victims who are not protected by juvenile laws and who are not protected by Utah's Cohabitant Abuse Act but are still subjected to serious abuse and violence in dating relationships. —Rep. Jennifer Seelig
SALT LAKE CITY — The father said his daughter went on one date with the man, but the date turned into a weekend of sexual assault.
At the end of the date, the man gave the woman a hug, told her goodbye and thanked her for a wonderful weekend.
"After which, nothing was really there to protect her," Rick Sorensen told the Utah Legislature's Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Interim Committee on Wednesday. "It's kind of hard, as a father, to have this happen to your own daughter, and she wouldn't even allow you to hug her, much less console her. She didn't want to be touched after all this.
"Unfortunately, there's no real law out there to protect her."
Sorensen asked legislators to change that by supporting Rep. Jennifer Seelig's proposed Dating Protection Act, which would allow those age 18 and older in dating relationships — or even after just one date — to obtain protective orders.
"The bill fills a gap in code by protecting victims who are not protected by juvenile laws and who are not protected by Utah's Cohabitant Abuse Act but are still subjected to serious abuse and violence in dating relationships," said Seelig, D-Salt Lake City.
The committee voted unanimously to make the draft bill a committee item.
"Don't we want to protect our youth from abuse at that early stage, before they get to making these long-term commitments?" asked Sen. Patrice Arent, D-Salt Lake City. "This is really, really important. People are being hurt, and we need to protect them."
Ned Searle, director of the Utah Office on Domestic and Sexual Violence, said studies have shown 15 percent of rapes are committed by a boyfriend or ex-boyfriend. The Utah Domestic Violence Council reported that 15 Utahns lost their lives to dating violence between 2004 and 2011.
"That's a young age to have your life taken when there's so much still ahead of you," Searle said.
Jon Bambrough said he thought of the worst-case scenarios when he was told his daughter, Ashlee, had been pushed from a truck moving at 65 mph by her then-boyfriend. Still, he said he couldn't have imagined the extent of her injuries.
Bambrough said his daughter was almost unrecognizable, her face and arms bloodied and torn. He took three weeks off of work tending to her "broken skull, picking out pieces of bone and gravel as they made their way to the surface."
"No one should ever have to go through this," Bambrough said. "We were extremely fortunate to be able to obtain a protective order because Ashlee spent a few short weeks living with this monster. But if this would have happened on her second date, her 10th date or even her 100th date, what could we have done to protect her from him? Absolutely nothing."
Currently, Seelig noted, protective orders are only available for those who are cohabitants, have children together or are juveniles.
Bambrough pleaded with legislators to change that.
"There is no current law to protect an innocent person who is just dating," he said. "Please pass this bill so no other family or father has to go through what we have without the security and peace of mind a protective order gives a victim and their family."
Sorensen echoed that call for change, saying the bill is needed to close "this gap between these laws."
"This bill needs to go forward to protect the victims, to give them peace of mind so maybe, just maybe, they can sleep at night knowing something is there to protect them," he said.
The act would make a violation punishable by a class B misdemeanor, said Donna Kelly, of the Utah Attorney General's Office. Kelly said that allows for a sentence of up to 180 days in jail and court supervision, as well as court-ordered treatments and community service, if a judge so chooses.
Both of Sorensen and Bambrough said the cases involving their daughters were prosecuted criminally.
Brandon Sloper, who was charged with kidnapping and aggravated assault, both second-degree felonies, for pushing Ashlee Bambrough from his car, pleaded no contest and will be sentenced Dec. 5.
Sorensen's daughter was one of the women allegedly abused by Gregory Peterson, who took his own life at his Heber cabin Oct. 23.
There were some concerns as to whether the protective orders were used as revenge, as was alleged by Utah County-based attorney Jackie de Gaston. She called the orders a "very severe, blunt tool that ruins people's lives."
"I hate to see protective orders expanded where they don't need to be," she said. "They need to be contracted. … We need more time on this."
But Stewart Ralphs, of the Legal Aid Society of Salt Lake, said he has been an attorney for 20 years and has seen "very few people" file protective orders to get back at someone.
Ralphs said the YWCA of Salt Lake did a study that found only 3 percent of protective orders filed in 3rd District Court were found to be frivolous.
Kelly noted that there are also laws in place against filing a false police report.
"There is a potential for abuse … but the benefits can far outweigh it if people need protection," Kelly said.
Ralphs said the bill adds protections without infringing on anyone's rights because no one has the right to harm or harass another person. As for suggestions that violent, angry people will disregard protective orders, Ashlee Bambrough disagreed.
"I think the protective orders are great," she said after the hearing.
"Adding jail time to anything is a deterrent," Jon Bambrough said. "It makes the victim feel safe. It makes a family feel better."
The family spoke out in favor of similar legislation last year. Jon Bambrough said they are optimistic Seelig's bill will pass into law this session.
"It sounds like they've got it drafted well," he said. "We think we got it this time."