A bill before the Utah Legislature would add an important piece to the tapestry of laws protecting victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, particularly after their cases have gone to court. The measure deserves support and is among several before lawmakers that would close gaps to form a more secure safety net for those under threat of continued victimization.
The proposed law, HB19, would offer ways for law enforcement to keep a tighter leash on accused offenders once they are released from jail. It would also give clearer guidance to police and the judiciary when dealing with enforcing protective orders between the time a person is accused of a sexual violence crime and the disposition of those charges. The sponsor, Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City, has bipartisan support for the bill, which was proposed in the last legislative session but not voted on before the session expired.
There are a variety of different measures, both proposed and recently enacted, that are emblematic of the evolving nature of the legal front in the battle against domestic abuse and sexual assault. The legislature has acted in recent years to close loopholes and create specific bodies of law dealing with domestic and sexual offenses outside the scope of general laws governing assault and harassment.
Much of this has been influenced by high-profile cases that have exposed gaps in the system. Rep. Romero’s proposed law extends a measure passed last year in the wake of the murder of a 39-year-old Sandy woman by her estranged boyfriend, who opened fire on the victim and others in a vehicle outside a schoolground. In that case, the victim had complained of harassment but was unable to obtain a protective order because she and her former boyfriend had never cohabitated as domestic partners. Now, non-cohabitating couples may apply for an order in cases of harassment.
The case of University of Utah student Lauren McCluskey, also killed by an estranged boyfriend, is peripheral to the concerns addressed by Rep. Romero’s bill, but is on point when it comes to the question of whether police are adequately attuned to dangers of harassment among dating partners. A review of the case showed University of Utah police were slow in addressing her concerns and failed to take substantial measures before it was too late. The school has pledged to take action to fix what it called “flaws” in the system, which should include an institutional prioritization of tactics to effectively address complaints by students and maintain focus until issues are resolved.3 comments on this story
In that context, legislative action that specifically addresses methods to better respond to harassment and abuse cases will help make those kinds of crimes more top-of-mind among law enforcement agencies. Slowly, greater awareness of the prevalence of domestic abuse is translating into greater focus on the problem, and we hope that focus continues.
It’s also important that laws are stitched together in ways that offer more and clearer channels for victims and police to address cases of abuse. Passage of Rep. Romero’s bill would continue to strengthen the fabric of laws necessary to prevent cases of assault and abuse from escalating to the point of a fatal conclusion.