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Missouri lawmakers approve plan to extend orders of protection for life

Content warning: This story contains details of domestic and sexual violence. 

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Before the legislative session comes to a close, Missouri lawmakers approved a plan to extend orders of protection for life — a move giving hope to victims of domestic and sexual violence. 

SB 71 — championed by Sens. Elaine Gannon and Holly Rehder and state Rep. Lane Roberts — is heading to the governor after it was truly agreed to and finally passed Monday. It gives judges the discretion to extend orders of protection for life, includes pets in protection orders, and expands the definition of stalking to include means through a third-party source such as social media. 

“Having this lifetime protection order as a tool that a judge can possibly use for me gives me hope and makes me feel like I actually matter,” Lisa Saylor, a survivor and advocate for this legislation, said. 

Lisa Saylor and Janice Thompson, survivors of domestic and sexual abuse, traveled to Jefferson City to advocate for legislation extending orders of protection. (PROVIDED)

Current state statute allows protective orders for 180 days to one year. Full protection orders can be renewed for a maximum of just one year. A court can also include an automatic renewal for an order after one year; the respondent can, however, request a hearing at least 30 days before the expiration date. 

But survivors, such as Saylor and Janice Thompson, described to lawmakers just how dangerous going to court repeatedly to ask a judge to renew the protection orders can be. It’s a time when abusers know exactly where their victims are located and can intimidate, harass, or harm them. Victims also aren’t able to carry mace or firearms with them in the parking lot or the courthouse, leaving them especially vulnerable. 

And that’s not to mention victims will often go before different judges and have to retell their stories of abuse repeatedly, reliving the trauma. 

Saylor, whose ex-husband sexually assaulted her while she was sedated in a hospital, has been to court 70 times — and 20 of those were pertaining to her orders of protection. While she hired a lawyer for family court appearances to protect her children, she represented herself when it came to orders of protection and at times was questioned by her abuser in court. 

Overall, she spent more than $42,000 on legal fees. Her ex-husband was released from prison in May 2020. 

“I felt like my children needed better. I’m an adult. I needed to sacrifice for my children,” she said. “But I represented myself, pro se, and that’s pretty difficult for a victim. Holding our own is something that’s hard to do, and being expected, rightfully so, to know the court proceedings and how it works, it’s very intimidating.” 

Thompson’s ex is serving a near-life sentence for assaulting another woman and shooting the man she was with in 2016, and she’s become an advocate for other survivors. She said the extended orders of protection is another “tool” law enforcement can use to keep victims safe. 

“We understand it’s simply a legal protection; it’s not a magical forcefield. We can’t legislate safety, but it’s a tool we need,” Thompson said. “When you’re trying to do everything you can to keep yourself safe, you’re doing everything you can so that legally you’re protected so that hopefully everything is in place to get you a chance to escape without having to face additional problems.” 

Colleen Coble, CEO of the Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence (MCADSV), placed the credit for the success of SB 71 squarely on survivors like Saylor and Thompson who traveled to Jefferson City to testify before lawmakers. 

“They went through so much and told their stories and made sure that others don’t have to go through the experience of having to go to court again and again and again,” Coble said. 

Roberts, a former Joplin chief of police and Department of Public Safety director, championed the legislation in the lower chamber. He previously told The Missouri Times he is “sensitive to the issue of domestic violence” and understood how difficult it could be for individuals to have to go to court constantly to be protected from an abuser. 

“Victims of domestic violence should not have to live in constant fear of their abuser’s retaliation, their beloved pet being harmed, or having to re-appear in court multiple times to renew the same order of protection,” Gannon, a Republican freshman, said. “I hope this new law will empower victims to seek protection and enable families to recover from the trauma of domestic abuse.”

“Helping those who are suffering through abuse and/or stalking is truly one of the most worthy items I’ve had the honor to work on,” Rehder said. “I’m over the moon that this is headed to the governor’s desk. The women who came and testified are so courageous. I cannot thank them enough.”