BOISE — A civil protection order is granted by a court at a survivor's request to prevent sexual assault -- but not everyone has a right to ask for one. That's why a group of advocates wants to expand the pool of Idahoans who are eligible for protections of this kind.
"We have a lot of work to do," said Annie Hightower, Director of Law and Policy, Idaho Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence.
Advocates congregated at the statehouse Thursday to show lawmakers that while civil protection orders do help protect people in domestic violence situations, narrow definitions of that relationship are causing other situations of sexual assault to not be eligible for those same protections.
House Bill 383, sponsored by Rep. Melissa Wintrow (D-Boise) and the Idaho Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence, was introduced with the intent of allowing for the creation of a civil protection order for survivors of sexual assault.
"Currently survivors of sexual assault cannot get a protection order because of their relationships with their offenders," said Hightower.
In 2018, 1,617 Idaho women and 304 Idaho men reported being sexually assaulted to Idaho State Police. 67% of those who reported would not currently qualify for a civil protection order, however, because their relationship with the offender does not qualify as stalking, or phone harassment, or domestic violence (which is defined as intimate partners or co-parents of children).
And while the bill was widely lauded at this function, bringing together a bevy of experts and agencies, the bill is also drawing criticism from members of the Idaho Freedom Foundation. In a recent web article, policy analyst Parrish Miller cited concerns about the accused not necessarily needing to be convicted with anything before being served a civil protection order.
"The very concept of inflicting punishment on someone who has not been convicted of a crime is a fundamental violation of one of our most fundamental rights — the right to be considered innocent until proven guilty."
A violation of the court order under this bill would be a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail and a fine not to exceed $5,000. But Kelly Miller, the executive director of the Idaho Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence, defends the bill -- pointing out that under current law, the same applies in domestic violence cases, where protection orders are granted to survivors whose accusers have not yet been convicted.
And Hightower says she feels the numbers are too high not do something.
"The Idaho Youth Risk Behavior Survey from 2019 was recently released, and what we found was over 23% of girls in our high schools report that they were essentially sexually assaulted by someone they were dating in the last year, which is a really high, concerning statistic," said Hightower. "Comparable numbers are about 10% nationally."
Other points of discussion included how they feel we need to center more work on those who are often experiencing violence at higher rates, such as missing and murdered indigenous women, young people, and the LGBTQ+ community.
House Bill 383 will go up before committee next week, so we'll keep you updated.