Protective orders in Virginia can't guarantee safety

By Ryan Nobles - bio | email

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - In the time it takes me to read this, a woman has been battered at the hand of someone she once loved. Someone she was so afraid of that she sought the protection of the law.

But protective orders, or "restraining orders" as they are commonly called, rarely guarantee complete safety.

That is because of two reasons. One- Virginia laws leaves many victims ineligible for the help and two- protective orders are only effective if the offender is willing to adhere to the law.

For the friends and families of victims, like Crystal Snipes, the pain of domestic violence is something that never goes away.

"I still look for her come in the door," said her mother Denease Kidd at vigil held for her daughter several months ago.

Domestic violence leaves families constantly asking, what if?

"He couldn't take no for an answer," said Kidd. "He always told Crystal if he couldn't have her nobody would"

Crystal Snipes tried to get a protective order to keep her child's father away from her. It never happened. He took her life and his own.

Snipes is just one victim among many, who didn't survive a process of filing for and obtaining a protective order. An order, with the strength to open a window to start their lives over again.

But research shows that 7 out of 10 times, even the strongest order is not enough.

"We think they are very effective when enforced," said Kristi VanAudenhove of the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance. "But they aren't always the answer."

In part because domestic violence experts like believe they don't go far enough. For instance, they don't apply to people who are dating, but don't live together

The most high profile example of that glitch in the system is Yardley Love. The UVA student was allegedly killed by her ex-boyfriend. A man she could not seek protective custody from.

"The thin line between love and hate," said Susheela Varky, a lawyer who works with domestic violence victims. She believes the law needs to be expanded, because intimate partner relationships that go bad, often end tragically

"The worst kind of violence happens when people are intimately involved."

Expanding and enforcing the penalties won't be easy. It will require lawmakers to specifically define a "dating" relationship.

If someone just went out after meeting someone on for one date, I wouldn't say that rises to the level of a 20 year marriage," said Varky.

But even if the statute is strengthened, there will still be no guarantee for the women in the most dangerous situations.

"It's not going to increase it for the psychopath who is never going to give up," said VanAudenhove.

That will only change, when attitudes and behaviors of the offenders change.. Something VanAudenhove has seen almost no progress with.

"The lifetime numbers are still very much the same as they were when I came into this work 30 years ago," she said. "If you are female, 1 in 4 chance that sometime in your lifetime you are going to be physically abused."

The reality of protective orders in Virginia has certainly caught the attention of lawmakers. Several bills have been proposed and there is real hope that progress will be made in this next legislative session.

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