Trying to provide sexual assault victims the ability to obtain protection orders against their alleged assailants is something the Wyoming Legislature has unsuccessfully tried to do for several years.
The Senate passed the latest effort, House Bill 17, on first reading Wednesday. But at least one lawyer, Sen. Tony Ross (R-Cheyenne), said the bill isn’t ready for prime time yet.
“There are problems with this bill because it’s not balanced,” Ross said. “Quite frankly there’s no way [as a suspect] you can defend yourself, because if you do you open yourself up to potential criminal attack also.
“That’s how these things work,” he added.
Ross said a victim can ask for a protection order even if there isn’t much evidence against her alleged attacker. If that person is potentially facing a criminal charge, he won’t be able to testify in his own defense at the civil proceedings.
“You’re not going to take the stand; you just can’t,” the senator said. “If I was advising a client, I would tell them do not take the stand, because anything you say in a court of law can be used against you in another court of law, and the provisions of this bill do not reflect that.”
Ross said he is willing to work with the Joint Judiciary Committee, which sponsored HB 17, plus judges, prosecutors and anyone else interested in crafting a workable bill.
The original bill made the protection orders effective for a year, but the House amended it to three months. The Senate changed the provision back to a year on Wednesday, with Sen. Drew Perkins (R-Casper) explaining that judges told the panel they didn’t want to review such cases every three months to see if an order should be extended.
Ross said he favored the change to a year, but it’s unknown if the House will agree with the Senate’s amendment. If it doesn’t and the bill stays the same and is approved, the two chambers would have to work out the differences in a joint conference committee.
Sen. John Hastert (D-Green River) said in most states that have similar protection orders for sex assault victims, they are in effect for two years.
He said HB 17 as amended would make a protection order in effect for up to a year, but judges would have the discretion to make it for a shorter period of time.
Hastert reminded senators whether the alleged offender is actually charged with a crime is up to state, city or county prosecutors, and is something a victim has no control over. HB 17, which would put sexual assault cases in the same state statute as stalking cases, would finally give victims a civil remedy for protection.
“A lot of the time victims don’t want to go public, they simply want the person to leave them alone,” he related.
Hastert said in Wyoming, 22 percent of women will experience rape in their lifetime. He noted 43 percent of women and 29 percent of men will experience sexual violence other than rape.
Nearly three-fourths of all female victims are sexually assaulted by someone they know, Hastert said.
Sen. James Anderson (R-Glenrock) said he supports the bill, which is “born out of a real, defined need.” He explained that he and his wife have provided shelter for women who have been sexually assaulted
“There’s a lot more protection needed for these young individuals,” he said.
The House passed HB 17 earlier by a vote of 58-2. The only members who voted no were Rep. Gerald Gay (R-Casper) and Rep. Dan Zwonitzer (R-Cheyenne).