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Domestic Violence Law Now Extends to Dating Couples

The new legal definition of domestic violence in Arizona has been extended to include dating couples and those who have just had sex, even once.


Parts of the law have raised questions among some in the legal and anti-violence communities.

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Originally limited to people who live together, are married or share children, legislators re-wrote the law to allow police and courts to determine what constitutes a dating relationship, and how to proceed in charging when people report violent behavior to police.


""Dating relationships and people who are in them have the same dynamics — unfortunately — of domestic violence that involve other relationships,"" said Kathleen Mayer, the legislative liaison for the Pima County Attorney's Office.


Mayer testified in favor of the new law before the Arizona State Legislature in May 2008.


The legislature passed S.B.1088, ""Kaity's Law"", after 17-year-old Kaity Sudberry of Phoenix was murdered by her boyfriend in January 2008 as she walked home from school.


Sudberry's family was unable to get protective orders to keep then-17-year-old Daniel Byrd legally at bay, because the two were not in what was then considered a domestic relationship.


The new law re-enforces existing statutes that require police to act in situations of domestic violence.


Like assault, domestic violence does not require one person to touch another, but merely to make another person afraid.


Bobbi Sudberry, Kaity's mother, said in a phone interview Tuesday that college students should be aware of the laws and penalties because they represent the vast majority of the dating population.


""Police are mandated to make an arrest if they have probable cause to believe that assaultive behavior took place,"" Mayer said.


Police have the power to remove children, search for evidence and confiscate weapons from either suspects or victims after an allegation of domestic violence has been made, though Mayer said officers are still responsible for demonstrating probable cause in court.


Victims of domestic violence are guarenteed an order of protection within 24 hours of a reported domestic violence incident.


In Arizona, restraining orders can be obtained without the presence of the defendant, who must come to court to fight the order after it has been granted.


The boundaries do not typically require the petitioner to avoid the defendant or their property.


""What the legislature did was amend the statute to include a dating relationship, but they didn't really tell us what a dating relationship is,"" said Tucson City Court Judge Michael Pollard.


Pollard said the law is legally problematic but probably won't be repealed any time soon.


""Once you've been here a while, it becomes easy to determine pretty much what's what,"" Pollard said. ""You do want to protect someone whose in a domestic violence relationship. That's the bottom line.""


Tucson City Chief Deputy Public Defender Russell Hughes said the reality of how domestic violence cases are prosecuted is grossly misunderstood by the public.


""Men are far more heavily prosecuted. They are charged more frequently, they are convicted more frequently,"" he said. ""There are lots of studies that show abuse is actually about even-steven.""


Hughes said there's a double standard in the news media about violence against men that he has also seen as a public defender.   


""When you hear of a football player's girlfirend shooting him, you don't hear the words domestic violence on TV,"" Hughes said, referring to the murder of former NFL star Steve McNair, who was murdered by his mistress Sahel Kazemi in July 2009.  


Tucson domestic violence survivors' advocate Delia Gestalum survived a physically and emotionally abusive relationship with a live-in boyfriend for five years.


""Unless there's now a legal definition of boyfriend, (police and courts) shouldn't have the right to determine if that's my boyfriend or not,"" she said.


Gestalum has volunteered as a domestic violence survivors' advocate in Tucson for more than 10 years.


Gestalum said it's important to empower victims, especially women, to seek help on their own.


""I think (the new law) is great if you are a heterosexual person in a heteronormative relationship, a Seventeen Magazine-approved boyfriend-girlfriend relationship. But if you're outside of that spectrum, how are you going to be protected?"" asked Kaylene Torregrossa, an anti-violence activist and UA theatre arts senior. 


""We can't rely on the system to solve all the problems,"" she said.   


Mayer said the law is also about teaching non-violence to male youths. ""We also want to educate young men that might start this behavior,"" she said.


Sudberry said the law is less about gender and more about promoting healthy relationships where power is shared equally between two people.


""It's not like you have to wait until they're living together, or pregnant, or married for the pattern to start showing,"" said Sudberry. ""I think the abusive behavior, the majority of the time, starts during the dating relationship.""


There are no statutory guidelines that outline what behavior is or is not abusive.


""If we show the pattern sooner, the perpetrator may very well be forced to address their issues sooner,"" she said.


Most domestic violence situations are prosecuted in municipal and county justice courts, and result in fines, court-ordered therapy, and no jail time, according to the Pima County Attorney's Office.


Neither Mayer nor Tucson City Prosecutor Laura Brynwood could point to any specific cases where the new law was applied, though both said it gave badly-needed legal powers to police and courts.





 







 


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