State Laws Perpetuate Abuse

by Suzie Raven

If your boyfriend or girlfriend (who you are not living with) hits, chokes, threatens or otherwise harms you, he or she should not be allowed near you. Yet in 12 states, including Virginia, you cannot apply for a civil domestic violence restraining or protective order unless you live together or were married at some point. The laws in New York are even more appalling. Marriage (past or present) or a mutual child is required to file for a restraining order. A recent report card from Break the Cycle, an organization that advocates on behalf of teenagers experiencing abuse, gave these states an automatic failing grade.

Break the Cycle’s logic in failing them makes perfect sense. They looked at situations teenagers commonly face, with dating but not cohabitating being an obvious start. A startling number of teenagers need protections not offered by law. At least one in five teenagers have been hit, slapped or pushed by a romantic partner. Technology isn’t helping either. No one needs 10, 20 or 30 text messages in an hour from a boyfriend or girlfriend wanting to know where they are – yet this happens to about 30 percent of teens. Not even a parent should be that obsessive.

Of course, these statistics reflect the number of teens who report incidents, but much like battered adults, many don’t speak up. A fifteen-year old should be able to enjoy a Saturday afternoon at the mall without having to report every move to another kid who probably doesn’t even know how to parallel park a car. How is a teenager supposed to grow up into a confident, self-assured adult if she has to worry about a boyfriend who can change from Jekyll to Hyde without warning? Abused teenagers are far more likely to experience repeated problems with violence and its effects later in life, which include depression and substance abuse.

Everyone has a right to safety, yet Missouri and Wisconsin seem to think this only applies to adults. They only grant domestic violence restraining orders to people over 18 years old. Five states (Iowa, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming) have the ridiculous restriction that minors who are related to their abuser cannot get a restraining order. Common genetics does not make it okay for young people to live with an abuser. A child needs the assurance that he is physically safe. New Hampshire is the only state that allows a minor to apply for a protective order without an adult present. It is also one of only three states (along with California and Oklahoma) to earn an “A” on Break the Cycle’s report card.

Only granting protective orders to adults or victims who live with or marry their abuser perpetuates violence. Most abusive marriages do not start after the couple steps down from the altar, much like a broken rib or a black eye is generally not the first incident. Abuse should never happen, but when it does, it should be stopped as early as possible. Why wait until it turns into an abusive marriage? Punching your girlfriend and choking your husband are equally wrong, and victims should be equally protected. Victims have enough to worry about, without the added complications of an inadequate legal system. Too many states perpetuate violence by allowing abusers to continuing to date their victims. Legal systems need to keep people safe, regardless of age or marital status.

(Photo © P. Winberg and used via the royalty-free photo website morgueFile.)

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Robin, Daughter of the Desert and American Bad Ass said...

Very important subject way too rarely addressed. Emotional abuse, especially in adolescence is an important subject as well. Glad you brought this to light. Hope to hear more about it...maybe even someday about improvements in the system.

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