Monday, March 23, 2009
by Ray Kisonas , last modified March 23. 2009 11:57AM
A Monroe County woman who had been raped was afraid she might be targeted again.To help ease some of her fears, she tried to obtain a restraining order against the suspect. But the judge told her there was a problem. According to Michigan law, the only way she could legally receive a personal protection order was if she had a second contact with the defendant."It's ridiculous," said Monroe County Circuit Judge Joseph A. Costello Jr. "They were stunned."Restraining orders - known as personal protection orders, or PPOs - are intended to assist victims who are being stalked or followed or worse. If an offender breaks the rules of a PPO, he is subject to immediate arrest.In domestic cases in Michigan, one incident is enough to obtain a PPO against a defendant. But in other cases, even sexual assault, two non-contact acts need to be committed before a judge can issue a restraining order."For a rape victim, it is horrible to have to have two contacts," said Melodie Brooks, director of the rape crisis center at Mercy Memorial Hospital. "A PPO is the first step to protection. That needs to be changed."State Rep. Kate Ebli, D-Monroe, is trying to do exactly that. She is sponsoring House Bill 4221 that, if passed, would allow victims of sexual assault to obtain a PPO against a suspect after one contact.According to the bill, there must be pending criminal prosecution against a defendant for a restraining order to be signed by a judge."This is something I've been working on for quite a while," Rep. Ebli said. "To require something similar to happen to a victim seems incredibly unfair."Rep. Ebli said Judge Costello made her aware of the quirk in the law and she decided to try to have it amended. The bill has been introduced and in May is expected to be discussed by the Judiciary Committee.Rep. Ebli said she has so far not had any opposition to the bill and hopes to see it become law soon."Not one group has objected to this at all," she said. "We have the support."Judge Costello explained that the original intent of the law was to make certain people were not abusing PPOs. Many times a restraining order was sought for trivial incidents so by requiring a second incident, it could show a pattern. However, victims of stranger or date rape were included in the provision, whereas only one incident was required in domestic situations.Rape victim advocates are supporting the new changes. Judge Costello said a PPO will not force an unreasonable person intent on harming a victim to stay away. But a restraining order can offer some relief for victims."It's not bullet-proof," Judge Costello said. "But it is one more option for police."
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