Alabama strengthens protection from domestic violence act - WAFF-TV: News, Weather and Sports for Huntsville, AL

Alabama strengthens protection from domestic violence act

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By Margo Gray - bio | email

HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) - Protection from domestic abuse is expanding for victims. New changes to the state's protection from abuse act, go into effect Thursday, and this time it's not leaving anything out.

One change to the law will now protect victims in a dating relationship. Before, protection from an abuser required a connection by marriage or having a child involved. But if a victim is dating someone for at least six months, they too can stand up and say "no more" to the abuse.

It may just be a piece of paper and it may not be able to stop a blow, but for abuse survivor Janna Sellers, filing a protective order was a life saver.

"I finally just wasn't going to take it anymore," said Sellers.

After secretly enduring years of physical and emotional abuse from her husband, Sellers says she had to get the law on her side.

"Once that judge signs that piece of paper and it's in effect, you are finally like I got somebody behind me and I'm not crazy. It's not me," said Sellers.

In a way, the law was already on her side because she was married to her abuser , but a protective order did not apply to a boyfriend or girlfriend abuser until now.

Domestic violence court advocate, J.B. Ward helps victims in Madison County file protection from abuse orders daily. She says opening up the law to include dating relationships is a huge victory for victims.

Under the old law, a protective order only protected victims who were married to their abuser, divorced, if they've had a child, a common-law marriage, or a former household member. Now a dating relationship is added to the list.

"We have so many calls so many police reports, where they are just dating. Since they are victims of domestic violence they have been not allow to apply for a protection order. Now it's going to open up a whole new area and we are going to see a large increase," said Ward.

This is an increase from hundreds already filed yearly in the county, giving a voice to those who won't need to keep a secret any longer.

"It's not a topic people want to hear about, it's not a pretty side of the world but unfortunately it is a real side of the world," said Ward.

Other changes to the protective order law lowered the age of being able to file from 19 to 18, and removing the victim's contact information from court documents so the abuser can't track them down.

Violation of protective order is a misdemeanor, that can come with a year in jail and six thousand dollars in fines.

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