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Abuse victims could receive longer protection orders, protections for pets under bill headed to governor

Abuse victims could receive longer protection orders, protections for pets under bill headed to governor

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JEFFERSON CITY — Abuse victims could receive long-term orders of protection against extreme, obsessive stalkers without having to return to a court under a change in law backed by the Missouri House and Senate on Monday.

The legislation will now go to Gov. Mike Parson.

The proposal, which was approved on a 144-3 vote in the House and 32-2 in the Senate, would allow orders of protection to be renewed for up to the entire lifetime of the respondent — the person the order is filed against.

The measure also includes a provision allowing pets to be included in orders of protection in an effort to keep animals from being used as leverage against domestic abuse victims.

The sponsor, Sen. Elaine Gannon, R-De Soto, said she was inspired by statistics showing that 71% of pet owners entering domestic violence shelters reported their abuser had threatened, injured or killed pets. One study found 87% of such incidents happen in the presence of the victim “for the purpose of revenge or control.”

Thirty-five states allow judges to include companion animals on protection orders.

Courts grant orders of protection to shield abuse victims from being stalked, threatened, assaulted or disturbed. They often include specific orders meant to protect the victim, such as forbidding the alleged abuser from going to their home or contacting them.

The proposal updates the definition of stalking to account for technological changes that allow for more indirect forms of monitoring and contact.

Proponents have said current law — which only mentions following, communicating and unwanted contact as examples of stalking — did not anticipate the ways abusers can use cellphones, tracking devices and social media to surveil and harass.

The legislation requires a judge to find evidence the respondent poses a serious mental or physical health threat to the victim or a minor in their household before creating a lifetime order. It adds an appeals process for abusers to argue they have changed.

Currently, the orders can only be renewed for up to one year at a time.

During a committee hearing in March, abuse victims described the trauma and danger of having to encounter their abusers in court at least once a year.

“We don’t anticipate every order of protection being a lifetime order,” said Jennifer Carter Dochler, public policy director for the Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence. “We’re looking at extreme situations.”

The legislation is Senate Bill 71.

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