Jon Bambrough had sworn two promises to his daughter Ashley at birth: that he would always love her, and that he would always protect her. “On July 2, 2011, her then-boyfriend of two years made me break one of those promises,” Bambrough told the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday. “He beat her unconscious and then pushed her from his truck at 60 mph.”
Bambrough’s daughter survived the brutal attack, and by a stroke of luck he says they were able to get a restraining order against the former boyfriend because they had briefly lived together before he attacked her. Under current state law, protective orders are available to married persons and couples who live together and suffer violence from their partners, but such protective orders prohibiting contact from an abuser do not apply to those abused while dating.
Had Bambrough’s daughter been abused before the couple had moved in, she would not have had access to a quick and possibly life-saving protective order.
“If this attack would have happened on the first date, the 10th date or even on the 100th date, she would not have been able to obtain the protective order,” Bambrough told the committee.
Rep. Jennifer Seelig, D-Salt Lake City, proposed House Bill 50 to the committee, a bill that would allow protective orders to be filed by emancipated minors and men or women 18 years of age or older who suffer violence in an unmarried relationship and who are not cohabitating. The bill is well known at the Legislature since variations of the bill have been proposed unsuccessfully for more than a decade. This year, the bill was backed by a long list of endorsing stakeholders -- well-crafted language on top of a committee room packed with supporters.
For Seelig, the need of the bill is also backed by some stark statistics she shared with the committee including a 2010 Utah Crime Survey noting that 9.9 percent of violent-person crime victimization is experienced at the hand of an individual’s boyfriend or girlfriend, or the fact that 15 Utahns were killed between 2004 and 2011 because of dating violence.
Many in attendance at the committee spoke in favor of the bill’s creation of a new protective order for these unprotected individuals. People spoke passionately and emotionally, including social workers and law enforcement. Whitney Norton, a member of the University of Utah chapter of the One Billion Rising group that raises awareness of violence against women, presented a petition with over 300 signatures in support of the bill. Besides public support, the committee received the bill well, given the careful craftsmanship of the bill language that artfully avoided some sensitive subjects—like firearm restrictions.
Seelig’s bill would not qualify for a federal firearm restriction on the abuser who is served with the order. While Seelig’s bill allows the state court to restrict firearm use and ownership by an abuser, it requires the court to follow a higher standard of evidence than any other state protective order. The protective order also expires automatically after 180 days and violation of the order is a Class B misdemeanor. Seelig deflected concerns that the order could be used frivolously by one scorned in a relationship since knowingly providing false information for the order’s application would be a felony offense.
Rep. Lavar Christensen, R-Draper, challenged the bill as a “verbatim resuscitation of existing law,” arguing that civil stalking injunctions already provide all individuals, including people experiencing dating violence, an opportunity to get protective orders. But Stewart Ralphs, an attorney with the Legal Aid Society, testified that civil injunctions are more costly both for the individual and the state and they also require two or more incidences to occur before they can be sought.
For father’s like Jon Bambrough, a second incident after the one that nearly killed his daughter would have been one too many -- a point not lost on Rep. Eric Hutchings, R-Kearns, who thanked the man for his testimony.
“If that had happened to my daughter, I wouldn’t be able to come to this committee because I’d be locked up somewhere,” Hutchings said.
The committee soon thereafter voted unanimously to pass HB 50 out with a favorable recommendation.