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Protective orders, GPS bracelets a start in fight against abuse

September 07, 2011

To the layman, the difference between a peace order and a protective order might seem as obtuse and confusing as the difference between probation and parole.

But in the judicial system, the difference can literally be a matter of life and death.

In the black and blue world of domestic abuse, a protective order has more teeth than a peace order, but it is only granted to those who are in a structured relationship — current or former spouses, or couples who have lived together for three of the past 12 months.

Peace orders are served in cases that are not generally considered domestic — a dispute between neighbors, for example. But they also apply to more casual, boyfriend-girlfriend relationships.

Too many women have a bitter name for one of these orders: “A piece of paper.” A determined spouse or boyfriend can usually find a way to do harm if so driven.

But protective orders do have advantages. Police are automatically notified when one is served, and the man must surrender his guns. Police have better tools for monitoring a person under a protective order.

A peace order, on the other hand, has little more deterrent effect than a wag of the finger. Most recently, in this community, Randy H. McPeak was served with a peace order for harassing his former girlfriend, Heather Harris. Today, Harris is dead and McPeak has been charged with her killing.

We can’t know whether a protective order would have saved Harris’ life, but it would have given her better odds. That’s why we strongly support Sen. Christopher Shank’s plan to assign protective-order status to peace orders in the cases where violence is more likely to erupt, most notably in male-female relationships.

We also support Shank’s goal of expanding a pilot program that affixes GPS ankle bracelets to those who have violated the protective orders filed against them. This alerts police when a man gets too close to a woman from whom he has been ordered to stay away. (It should be noted at this point that we recognize it is not only men who abuse.)

Both these measures have the support of Washington County Sheriff Douglas Mullendore, who estimates that one out of 10 peace orders ought to be in the protective category.

Every few months, it seems, a woman is dead in the Tri-State area at the hands of a man who can’t let go. It seems astonishing that these crimes can occur time and time again, yet we can’t seem to find a way to break the pattern.

Relationships have historically been treated with kid gloves by the judiciary, because they are complex, emotional and often break down into one person’s word against the other’s. For too long, we have cast a blind eye to what goes on behind closed doors, leaving it to men and women to work it out on their own, or worse, intimating that the woman has somehow “asked for it” or should “submit.”

But the price for getting into a bad relationship should not be a life of terror. To most of us, it is unthinkable — waking up each morning not knowing if he’s waiting across the street, or going home at night not knowing whether he has forced his way in.

Until society figures out a way to drill some civility into particularly thick skulls, it is the job of the legislature and judiciary to make every effort to protect those who are vulnerable. Protective orders and GPS bracelets are not a solution, but they will certainly help make an uphill battle a little less steep.

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