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Virginia changes domestic violence laws

Wednesday, Aug. 31 | By Staff
Michele Arft is taking it one case at a time.

Prior to July 1, only family members or stalking victims could get protective orders in Virginia. But that changed when a new state law took effect last month.

Now anyone in a dating relationship can seek a protective order from a Virginia Court.

“I’ve had one case I worked with since the law took effect,” said Arft, a domestic violence resource specialist with the Fauquier County Sheriff’s Office.

“Anyone with any questions or concerns, or who needs any assistance with domestic violence and is in a dating relationship can call or come in and see me,” she said. “I can try to guide them in the right direction and go to court with them.”

In order to request a protective order, a victim must file a petition in the General District Court clerk’s office, demonstrating fear of “any act of violence by force or threat” including being forcefully detained.

Once the petition is submitted, a date and time is set to go before a judge. The judge may or may not enter a preliminary protective order. The judge will also schedule another hearing so a permanent protective order can be issued, Art explained.

If an alleged offense occur - red in another state, the victim must try to get the petition in that jurisdiction, however.

Arft said Virginia lawmakers introduced the legislation after University of Virginia student and lacrosse player Yeardley Love was murdered by her ex-boyfriend in May 2010.

The veteran domestic violence resource specialist said there’s no way to know for sure if the law would have prevented the incident had it been in place. But she fervently hopes it will help prevent others in the future.

Holding hands …

Armed with a criminal justice degree from Radford University, Arft has been the domestic violence resource specialist at the Sheriff’s Office for 13 years.

As such, she said she follows up with victims affected by domestic violence and familiarizes them with the services available in the county.

“I assist them with safety planning, filling out paperwork, do court accompaniment and make sure they get the resources they need based on their situation,” Arft said.

Depending on the circumstances, Arft will often refer people to Fauquier Domestic Violence Services (FDVS), Fauquier Faith Partners or Services to Abused Families (SAFE).

According to Julie Turner a member of the FDVS board of directors, that organization and SAFE have teamed up to provide advocacy and coordination of care for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.

The FDVS and Fauquier Faith Partners are also trying to establish shelters for domestic violence victims in Fauquier, Arft added.

“There’s definitely momentum and progress. I am very excited about the prospect of having a shelter here for women and kids,” she said. “The need is definitely here.”

Last year, the Sheriff’s Office fielded 777 calls for service related to domestic violence. There have been 553 this year.
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