Teen dating violence is, unfortunately, a relatively common problem in the United States. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Protection, approximately 1 in 11 female teenagers and 1 in 14 male teenagers report being the victims of physical dating violence in a given year.
Data from the Georgia Domestic Violence Fatality Review Project also indicates that nearly 50% of victims killed by abusers began their relationships with their abusers between the ages of 13 and 24.
Up until recently, Georgia teenagers who were the victims of teen dating violence had somewhat limited means of protecting themselves from abusers. Specifically, they were unable to be granted protective orders against them.
This was due to the nature of the applicable laws. In Georgia, to be granted a protective order against an abuser, the relationship between the victim and their abuser had to be formal. For instance, a victim could be granted an order to protect them from an abusive spouse. That’s because a marriage is a formalized relationship.
Romantic and sexual relationships among teenagers tend to be informal. Thus, Georgia teens did not have legal means to be granted protective orders when they were the victims of dating violence.
Relationships No Longer Have to Be “Official” For DV Victims to Get Protection in Georgia
A new law has finally addressed this issue. On Thursday, July 1, House Bill 231 officially became law in Georgia.
Under this new law, which essentially amends the existing statute, a victim of dating violence can seek a protective order against their abuser if they are in a committed relationship with them. The relationship doesn’t need to be formal or “official,” nor does it need to be sexual in nature.
The new law defines a qualifying relationship as one that “is characterized by a level of intimacy that is not associated with mere friendship or between persons in an ordinary business, social, or educational context.” It defines dating violence as the commission of a felony, or the “commission of the offenses of simple battery, aggravated battery, aggravated assault, or stalking.” The law also applies to those in a relationship or who have been in a relationship that has resulted in a current pregnancy.
According to Vicky Kembrell, Georgia Legal Services Program’s Family Law Project director, “GLSP sees dating violence victims that we couldn’t help because they weren’t related to the abusers in any kind of formal relationship. But now, if you are a victim of dating violence, you may be able to get a protective order from the courts to protect you from the abuser.”
Tomieka Daniel, GLSP’s managing attorney, added, “Teens who are dating violence victims are particularly vulnerable to abuse and intimidation because of youth and inexperience. Finally, GLSP can ask the court to protect these teen and child victims to keep them safer.”
Georgia’s Law Doesn’t Just Apply to Teenagers – Adults Can Get Protection, Too
It’s worth noting that these changes don’t merely apply to teens. They may benefit teen victims in particular, as teens are more likely to be involved in informal dating relationships, but these changes can help any victims whose relationships with their accusers aren’t formal.
This is a significant development. In 2020, calls to Georgia’s certified family violence and sexual assault centers rose by approximately 30% when compared to 2019. Most experts agree this trend is due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Lockdowns resulted in more people being in their homes with abusers. The stress many felt as a result of the pandemic may have also been taken out on those close to them in the form of abuse.
What Does Getting a Protective Order Mean For Victims?
The protective orders victims may now be granted should, in theory, offer substantial protection from their abusers. According to Cheryl Branch, executive director of Safe Shelter, “It’s a Superior Court order. If it’s violated, the perpetrator can be arrested for stalking, which is a felony. So it’s a big deal, and it can protect you and your children.”
Branch expects protective orders to be granted in higher numbers now thanks to House Bill 231. Its existence may not only offer help to those who need it, but also shed greater light on an all-too-common problem.