SALT LAKE CITY — Utah courts have issued 51 temporary and permanent restraining orders under a new state law that allows Utahns 18 and older who are abused or threatened in dating relationships to seek protection.
The 37 temporary and 14 permanent orders have been issued since mid-May, when HB50 went into effect, according to the state Office of Domestic and Sexual Violence.
“That’s about 10 a month. That’s a pretty good clip for something that is brand new. The more people understand that remedy is there, they’ll use it to get protection for folks who need it,” said Stuart Ralphs, executive director of the Legal Aid Society of Salt Lake. The law office assists low income adults and children who are victims of domestic violence to obtain protective orders and civil stalking injunctions.
Legal Aid Society attorneys recently conducted a training with victim advocates and domestic violence service providers, Ralphs said. "Our main focus was on this bill."
Under the law, protective orders covering people in dating relationships will be in effect for 180 days. A person who violates a protective order can be charged with a class B misdemeanor.
HB50 was passed by the Utah Legislature earlier this year, ending nine years of previous attempts to pass varying versions of the legislation to address the gap in the state code. Previously, only spouses or cohabitants could seek protective orders.
The bill's sponsor, Rep. Jennifer Seelig, D-Salt Lake, said national evidence supports offering this protection to even younger people in dating relationships, but backers compromised on age 18 to help move the bill through the legislative process this year.
"Going forward, as we better understand the issue and impact on Utah, it's something we must absolutely consider," she said.
In many cases, batterers were abused themselves or they witnessed other family members being abused or threatened, Seelig said.
"People at 18 just don't start hurting other people or start thinking that being hurt is a normal part of a healthy relationship," she said.
The law enables the system "to put a pause" on abusive or threatening behavior in dating relationships. "Then parents, school authorities, law enforcement and maybe even medical personnel or mental health providers can address these issues so they don't become a pattern later on," Seelig said.
Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo said he did not have a point of reference for the data, but said "if the law prevents one serious incident from occurring, it’s worthwhile.
"If there’s 51, it would suggest there’s a need,” said Bramble, who was the Senate sponsor of the legislation.