DA: Protection orders in sex assault cases make communities safer (column)
Special to the Daily
A top priority when I took the district attorney oath of office in 2013 was to be a strong supporter of laws strengthening protections for crime victims. In that spirit our office welcomed the opportunity to support state legislators and the governor in their effort to extend the orders of protection required in “Vonnie’s Law” to defendants in cases of sexual assault.
Survivors of sexual assault are often fearful that their attacker, once arrested, will be inadequately prevented from re-victimizing them, and that the criminal justice system recognizes a defendant’s rights over the rights of those they harm. In fact, the U.S. Constitution makes no mention of the rights of victims at all.
Vonnie’s Law honors Vonnie Flores, of Leadville, who was murdered in 2010 by a neighbor after he was arrested for stalking. Her attacker posted bond and was released from jail without first appearing before a judge.
Colorado House Bill 15-1060, which was co-sponsored by Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Dillon, and state Sen. John Cooke, R-Greeley, provides another level of security for victims of sexual assault by forcing defendants to appear before a judge prior to their release from jail on bond. Gov. John Hickenlooper signed the bill into law on March 20.
The new law effectively builds upon the legal requirement that enables prosecutors to advocate for victims of stalking and domestic violence at the earliest stage of a criminal case, to include victims of sex assault.
Sex offenders present special risks to children and are prone to re-offending. Standard bond conditions, such as an order that a defendant have “no contact” with a victim, are inadequate to protect citizens against such risks. Added measures are necessary to give law enforcement and victims adequate time to prepare, without fear, for the next phase of prosecution.
At their bond hearings, sex offenders will now face conditions unique to the facts of their circumstances as a safeguard to help prevent new offenses and to monitor their compliance with court orders.
Orders of protection are a critical tool in protecting victims of sexual assault because, according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, known as RAINN, approximately 66 percent of the 293,000 sexual assaults committed in the United States last year were by a person known to the victim, and 38 percent of the rapists were a friend or an acquaintance.
Requiring that defendants acknowledge the terms of the protection order by signing it in the presence of a judge provides the victim, who is likely to know the assailant, the time to take measures to defend themselves.
We applaud Gov. Hickenlooper, Rep. Hamner and Sen. Cooke for working together — in a non-partisan way — with each other and with their colleagues in the House of Representatives and the state Senate to provide an extra layer of protection for victims of sexual assault. Their leadership on this issue gives law enforcement, prosecutors and judges additional tools with which to enhance public safety in Colorado.
Bruce I. Brown is the district attorney for the 5th Judicial District (Clear Creek, Summit, Eagle and Lake counties).
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