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Kansas

Kansas advocacy groups are calling for the length of initial protection from abuse orders to be doubled

 

TOPEKA – Advocates for victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse propose the Kansas Legislature amend state law to give judges the authority to issue longer protective orders in response to cases of alleged abuse, assault, stalking and trafficking human beings.

A coalition of organizations filed a lawsuit in the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday to amend the state statute so that the term of protective orders can be adopted for no less than two years and no more than five years. The legislation under consideration by the committee would also allow plaintiffs to seek renewal of protection orders for periods of two to five years.

Under current law, orders in Kansas courts were set for one year. Individuals have the opportunity to apply for one-year extensions.

A measure comparable to House Bill 2029 was introduced during the 2022 legislative session but was unsuccessful in the House.

Emily Voss, an advocacy and outreach specialist at the Metropolitan Organization to Counter Sexual Assault, said the legal process to obtain a protection order from the courts was hampered. Doubling the duration of an initial order to two years and expanding the range to five years would give victims breathing space as they grapple with difficult personal circumstances, she said.

“Getting through the process is difficult under the best of circumstances, given concerns about childcare, transportation, and navigating a complex legal system,” Voss said. “In the nearly five years that I’ve been doing this work, I’ve never had a client who hasn’t expressed a concern about one of these things prior to the court order of protection.”

Victoria Pickering, director of advocacy for MOCSA labor in Johnson and Wyandotte counties, said protective orders are a tool to reduce the likelihood of retaliation or intimidation by perpetrators.

A year-long protective order, she said, typically conflicted with the 18 to 24-month timeline for completing a sexual assault criminal case. The COVID-19 pandemic created a backlog of cases that led to trials taking place three years after an assault, he said she.

Jessa Farmer, public policy coordinator for the Kansas Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence, said Kansas’s current statute leaves victims who have experienced years of violence to re-apply each year for an extended protective order. . She said the onus was on victims to navigate the justice system, often without legal representation due to a shortage of attorneys in Kansas willing to take on these cases.

Moving to a two- to five-year ordinance would increase the efficiency of the justice system and allow urgent cases to be dealt with more quickly, he said.

“Applying for a protection order is a step towards independence, but it can also pose a threat to an abuser, stalker or trafficker’s sense of power and control over their victim. This can increase the danger, violence and risk of death for a victim,” Farmer said.

Mike Burgess, policy director for the Disability Rights Center in Kansas, said the legal advocacy organization has recommended the House committee strengthen the legislation. The one-year extension would need to be reviewed to avoid annual renewals, he said, and a two-year minimum made sense.

“We are in favor of this change,” he said. “However, there are some situations where five years is not enough.”

He said the bill could be amended to give judges the authority to approve successive extensions of protective orders for up to five years if plaintiffs have shown good cause.

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