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Legislative panel OKs long-debated dating violence bill

Published November 15, 2012 8:20 am

Interim committee • Measure would allow anyone in dating relationship to take out a protective order.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

His daughter was on a first date when GOP fundraiser Greg Peterson allegedly attacked her.

She'd agreed to go to a movie with Peterson, but instead of taking her to the theater, he started an assault in his car that would ultimately continue through two days of rape and sodomy at his cabin, the man said.

"It's kind of hard as a father, when this happens to your own daughter and she won't even allow you to hug her, much less console her. She didn't want to be touched after all this," he said.

The man, who the Tribune is not naming to protect his daughter's identity, asked a Utah Legislative committee Wednesday to approve a bill he said could have provided her some measure of comfort by allowing her to get a protective order.

"This bill needs to go forward to protect the victims, give them peace of mind so maybe, just maybe, they can sleep at night,"he said. Four women would ultimately accuse Peterson of sexual assault. He killed himself last month while awaiting trial.

Utah is one of a handful of states that grant protective orders only to people who are married, live together, or have a child together. Similar bills have failed in recent years in part due to concerns over gun restrictions.

The Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Interim Committee unanimously passed a draft bill Wednesday sponsored by Rep. Jennifer Seelig, D-Salt Lake City.

"This, in many ways, is a compromise step," Seelig told the committee. "Certainly, it could be a lot harsher ... [but] it allows us to at least get in a direction that's helpful for people who don't have any help at all."

It doesn't contain the same restrictions on guns or associations in public places as the state's current protective orders. Violating it would be a less-serious class B misdemeanor, said Domestic and Sexual Violence Resource prosecutor Donna Kelly.

"It's designed to give protection to victims, and the consequence is different from the co-habitant protection act," said Kelly. Fifteen people died in dating relationship violence between 2004 and 2011, said Ned Searle, director of the Utah Office on Domestic and Sexual Violence.

Sen. Luz Robles, D-Salt Lake City, related the story of one of her constituents looking for protection from an abusive boyfriend. In that case the police said, " 'There isn't much we can do.' "

"There is a gap and need for this," she said. Adults can now get a civil stalking injunction, but they have to prove at least two documented incidents, which can be a long process.

There were some questions raised about the bill. Gayle Ruzicka, head of the conservative Eagle Forum, asked whether the bill should apply to people as young as 18 years old, since it could bar respondents from attending the same high school as victims.

"If there is something like this going on, in that situation I believe the parents and the school can work together to fix that problem," she said.

Rep. Curt Oda, R-Clearfield, the House chair of the committee, expressed concern that the proposed orders could be used "to get even with a boyfriend. ... I have kind of a personal issue because I've gone through some of this myself."

Attorney Jackie De Gaston took those concerns a step further, saying that protective orders are "mostly used to get revenge ... and keep the children."

"I hate to see protective orders expanded where they don't need to be, because I think they should be contracted," she said.

But Stewart Ralphs, director of the Legal Aid Society of Salt Lake, cited a study done by the YWCA of Salt Lake County examining six months of protective order requests.

"Less than 3 percent were deemed frivolous filings," he said. "Very few people ... use these as a sword."

lwhitehurst@sltrib.com

Twitter: @lwhitehurst