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Bill passed by Ohio House would expand definition of domestic violence

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Ohio Statehouse Rotunda. Photo by Mike King via Flickr.

Editor’s Note: This story was written for the Athens NEWS and was first published in its Sept. 25 print issue. 

The Ohio Senate is considering a bill that would expand the state’s definition of domestic violence to include dating partners.

Passed by the Ohio House of Representatives in February, House Bill 1 allows “victims of dating violence to obtain civil protective orders against their attacker,” according to a press release from the House.

Ohio is one of two states whose current definition of domestic violence does not apply to partners in romantic relationships.

“For far too long, Ohio’s antiquated domestic violence laws have left thousands of Ohioans vulnerable to dating violence,” said State Rep. Emilia Sykes, D-Akron, who co-sponsored the bill along with Rep. Nathan Manning, R-N. Ridgeville.

The Ohio Domestic Violence Network, a nonprofit advocacy group for survivors of domestic abuse, defines domestic violence as a pattern of abusive and coercive behaviors, including physical, sexual and psychological attacks, as well as economic coercion, that adults or adolescents use against their intimate partners.”

Nancy Neylon, executive director of the ODVN, said the language of HB 1 is crucial.

“The Senate is concerned that the definition of dating violence (proposed in HB 1) may in fact be too narrow…” Neylon said. “So they’re trying to work out language that would include dating violence victims, but perhaps not be so narrow in terms of what a dating violence definition is.”

The Ohio Legislature also passed two bills relating to domestic violence in June, both of which expanded victim protections.

Senate Bill 7 allowed domestic-violence offenders who knowingly violate protection orders to be prosecuted even when the offender wasn’t formally served the protection order. In the case of domestic violence, civil protection orders can protect victims from further contact with their abuser.

“What we had for a while was that… if there wasn’t service, you couldn’t prosecute these offenders, and so we felt these protection orders were sort of useless,” Neylon said. “…It’s something that’s really sort of the intricacies of the law, but it’s really important if victims are going to be protected and protection orders are going to be useful.”

The bill was introduced by state Sens. Kevin Bacon, R-Minerva Park, and Gayle Manning, R-North Ridgeville, and co-sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Steve Wilson, R-Mainville.

“This legislation strengthens protections for victims of domestic violence, preventing offenders from using technicalities to evade and violate protection orders,” Wilson said in a March press release.

Also passed in June, House Bill 63, commonly called Judy’s Law, increased penalties for “anyone who would use an accelerant to permanently disfigure or injure somebody,” Neylon said.

The bill was enacted after Gahanna resident Judy Malinowski was doused with gasoline and set on fire by her ex-boyfriend in 2015. Under HB 63, those found guilty of committing felonious assault using an accelerant have six years added to their sentence.

Although laws such as these are an important step in protecting victims of domestic violence, Neylon said it’s just one of “multiple levels of strategy.”

“You can make all the laws you want, but if all the people in the system aren’t following the laws, then the laws are only as good as how they’re written,” she said.

From proper police training to coordinating with local schools and churches to educate community members, Neylon said a “societal look at prevention” is more effective in the long run. And while catching individual offenders is important, it’s not how the issue of domestic violence will ultimately be resolved.

“It’s really how we as society look at the issue,” she said, “and we’ve got to be doing more on so many levels.”

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