Va. bill would give daters easier path to restraining orders

Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 25, 2011; 10:41 PM

RICHMOND - When Dominique Lamb's boyfriend hit her during a fight in 2006, the college student made what she thought was the responsible decision: She broke up with him.

But Lamb's boyfriend didn't go away. Instead, he called her - repeatedly. He texted. When she unfriended him on Facebook, he found people who knew her and friended them instead.

Frightened, Lamb, who was 20 at the time, went to campus security at Washington and Lee University, where she was enrolled. They offered to distribute her ex-boyfriend's picture on campus.

That's in part because Virginia law makes it difficult for people who are dating, but not living together or married, to get protective orders against their partners. Under current law, family members and others who live together can seek a protective order reserved for cases of "family abuse," provided they can show that they've been subjected to violence or threats of violence.

But everyone else, including people who have dated, face a much higher standard. They can get only a protective order if there's been a criminal warrant issued for the alleged abuser for stalking, sexual battery or other offenses that could lead to serious injury.

Domestic violence activists say many people who are dating have little access to protective orders because their partner's behavior has not risen to a level that would justify criminal charges.

Others decide they prefer to skip a restraining order rather than pursue criminal charges that might anger their abuser and cause them to lash out.

"There just wasn't much that they could do," Lamb said of her own case. Although she had called the police, she had not wanted to press criminal charges against her ex-boyfriend. "It never occurred to anyone to advise me to go after a protective order."

The General Assembly is now considering a dramatic rewrite of the state's protective-order laws to make it easier for people who are dating to get court orders requiring their abusive partners to stay away.

The issue has taken on new resonance since the death of University of Virginia lacrosse player Yeardley Love last year.

Fellow student George Huguely V, 23, has been charged with murder in the case. Huguely and Love were in an on-again, off-again relationship, and at the time of her death, he told police that she'd recently broken up with him.

"I have no idea if this would have helped her - but it can clearly help people in other situations," said Sen. George L. Barker (D-Fairfax), who sponsored unsuccessful legislation on the issue last year and has returned this year with a bill modeled on recommendations of the Virginia Crime Commission.

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