Bill Would Allow Restraining Orders Against Abusers Out Of State, Online

A proposed change in state law will make it easier for domestic abuse victims to protect themselves from abusers who live in other states.

Backers say the bill is needed to protect victims from the increasing use of social media by domestic violence perpetrators.

Wisconsin is one of only a few states that requires people filing a restraining order to show that the person they are filing it against lives in Wisconsin. The new bill would allow victims who may have fled an abuser in another state to file a restraining order from Wisconsin if the out-of-state abuser is still harassing or threatening them online, by telephone, or through the mail.

Ashley Welak, a legal advocate for People Against a Violent Environment, remembers a client who said she felt like she was “living a nightmare” because of the online harassment she endured. After she fled her abuser from Las Vegas, he began posting fake pictures of her on social media.

“She almost lost her job because of the kinds of things he was putting on there – pictures of her with barely any clothes on,” says Welak. “He also made an advertisement on Craigslist [of her] as an adult entertainment escort.”

Only because her abuser had family in Wisconsin was she able to file a restraining order. Others victims whose abusers don't have relatives in the state are often forced to return to the state where their abuser lives to file the restraining order.

Tony Gibhart of the group End Domestic Abuse Wisconsin says Wisconsin's current restraining order laws are outdated.

“They weren't written when anyone knew what a text message was or anyone knew what Facebook was,” he says. “They're not really reflective of … the kinds of abuse we’re seeing in an increasingly technological environment.”

Gibhart says out-of-state restraining orders have proved effective in preventing such abuse in other states.

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