Protective Order Law: New law now applies to dating relationships

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - New laws taking effect today aim to better protect and help victims of abusive relationships. The protective order law is now stronger.

The protective order law now applies to any relationship, whether that be married, dating or even in the workplace.

"The family abuse laws cover so much more than they did before," Becky Lee said.

Becky Lee with the YWCA of Richmond works with abuse victims. She says the laws taking effect today are a victory, especially for young people. Studies show about 1 in 4 high school and college age girls report being physically or sexually abused by a dating partner.

Today's changes come in the wake of tragedies like the death of UVA lacrosse star Yeardley Love. She was found was found dead in her apartment last spring.  Her ex-boyfriend, George Huguely, is charged with her murder. Police say there was evidence of a fight between the two a few days before her body was found.

Lawmakers have now extended the ability to obtain an order of protection to "any" relationship that could cause harm. The law also now includes any violent behavior that puts someone in danger of injury, sexual assault, or death.

"An abuse is not always physical; it's emotional; stalking, for example, may not result in physical injury; they may not get close enough to put their hands on you, but the threat of danger looms constantly," said Lee. "Taking the phone out of the wall, locking the doors, things that are perceived threats are now just as viable in terms of evidence, and that's huge."

Another important change, the new law eliminates the warrant requirement. That means a victim no longer has to wait for police to track down their abuser and serve a protection order; it's effective immediately.

"Now once you have it, it's truly something that you can hold and know that you have a right to that protection, and I think that's extraordinary for victims who fear still being stalked or still being hunted down," Lee said.

Domestic violence experts say protective orders will never be a cure all, but these new laws are definitely a step in the right direction to helping more victims.

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