Victims of Dating Violence Get Help; A New Law Expands Domestic Abuse to Include Dating Abuse

Article excerpt

Byline: MATT COLEMAN

Many of the incident reports share common themes.

An argument heats up. Words are exchanged that can't be taken back. Blows hit home and bruises blossom.

The chain of events might be comparable, but the level of connection between victims and aggressors often varies.

Newly implemented state legislation has made it so that abusers can no longer shield themselves with antiquated definitions.

Gov. Charlie Crist signed the Barwick-Ruschak Act -- an anti-dating-violence bill -- in July, and it took effect statewide in October. The act, which is named for a 19-year-old University of Central Florida student and her male friend who authorities said were killed by her jealous ex-boyfriend, opens up the definition of domestic abuse and provides an additional layer of protection for victims not engaged in serious relationships with their attackers.

Sheila Spivey, assistant director of the Women's Center at the University of North Florida, said the act's main benefit is how it expands the boundaries of what constitutes domestic violence.

If the victim didn't live with or share a child with an assailant, most of the offenses prior to the act were classified as simple batteries or assaults. The attack was documented, but victims were left to deal with the repercussions, which often included an angry significant other.

There was no intervention beyond the incident report unless there were repeated attacks. The follow-up penalties were also less severe.

Responding officers are now required to inform victims about area domestic-violence shelters. Every bump, bruise or cut is documented in the report and logged in case of continuing aggression.

Victims of dating violence also are able to immediately request restraining orders, and offenders who violate injunction language face stricter penalties.

The Times-Union has documented at least five reports of dating violence in Jacksonville this month. A request for the total number of arrests logged by the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office since October wasn't available.

"It took a while, but the law now recognizes that abuse in a relationship can start long before marriage," Spivey said.

Another advantage is the increased response of abuse-intervention efforts, said Sharon Youngerman, executive director of Quigley House, an Orange Park domestic-violence shelter. …