SALT LAKE CITY -- Melanie Clark says victims of sexual abuse in dating relationships seldom have many options for legal protection from their abusers.
But Clark, who runs Safe Harbor in Kaysville, believes a bill dealing with dating violence currently being considered in the Legislature would fill that gap.
"One of the key things for victims is whether they feel safe," Clark said.
She said a program for victims of sexual abuse and violence finds many people who fall into protection gaps, from underage children, to those who live together. She said the victims who fall through the cracks often resort to alcohol or drugs to try to cope.
"They're so immobilized with fear, they can't work or go to school. They often feel like they have to move," Clark said.
Between 2004 and 2011, 15 Utahns were killed as a result of dating violence, according to House Minority Leader Jennifer Selig, D-Salt Lake City.
Seelig is running legislation targeted at those who fall in the gap in legal protection. HB 50 extends court protection to those dealing with abuse in dating relationships.
The legislation cleared another key hurdle Wednesday, when a Senate committee forwarded the measure with a favorable recommendation to the Senate. It has already passed the House.
Several lawmakers voted to advance the bill, while expressing concerns the measure may go too far in trying to provide a safe harbor for victims of abuse in dating relationships.
Criminal defense attorney Steven Burton said the bill is well-intentioned, but said the standard of proof highlighted in the bill is weak. He suggested the new protective order could be used as a weapon against a boyfriend or girlfriend, by someone going through the court process. He said there is no disincentive for people to abuse the guideline.
Seelig disagreed, saying the bill makes lying about alleged abuse a felony, while a person violating a protective order would face misdemeanor charges.