No-contact orders aim to protect victims

When someone is in an abusive relationship, or is threatened with violence by another person, prosecutors have a tool to help protect victims.

It’s called a no-contact order.

No-contact orders are legal documents created to keep victims and protected parties safe from physical harm.

But not all no-contact orders are the same, according to Webster County Attorney Ricki Osborn.

“In Iowa, we have criminal no-contact orders and protective orders,” Osborn said. “Protective orders are civil matters and criminal no-contact orders are the ones our office deals with.”

The main difference between the two forms is that no-contact orders are used when there’s a criminal investigation, she said, while protective orders are requested by an individual.

“When somebody’s appearing in court on a domestic abuse charge, we sometimes won’t even meet with the victim,” Osborn said. “We always ask for a no-contact order, and even if we don’t ask for one the court will approve it anyway.”

Cases in which a no-contact order might be filed include domestic abuse or assault, harassment, stalking or sexual abuse. They can also be filed in cases of burglary and theft.

While Osborn’s office handles criminal no-contact orders, the Domestic/Sexual Assault Outreach Center is one place where victims can file for protective orders.

D/SAOC Executive Director Connie Harris said protective orders are filed in cases of domestic abuse, sexual abuse or threats.

“It’s a way for the victims to document their efforts to protect themselves,” she said. “They’re useful in the sense that the victim has some control over the situation.”

Protective orders last one year, but they can be extended.

“The victim can make a motion to extend that,” Harris said. “Because it’s civil, the victims can do the process through District Court.”

On the other hand, no-contact orders usually last until the case is completed, even if the victim asks for it to be lifted, according to Osborn.

“We do not lift the no-contact order while the case is pending,” Osborn said. “The victim and the defendant may file motions to lift or modify it, and if they request it the court will set it for a hearing. We’ll introduce evidence for why it shouldn’t be lifted, and the judge will make that decision.”

She added that it’s rare that a no-contact order will be lifted while the case is being prosecuted, but it does happen. One reason may be because it involves a couple that has children and arrangements need to be worked out between them.

After the case is completed, Osborn said no-contact orders can remain in place for up to five years, though Osborn said those can be renewed at the request of the victim.

“Within 90 days before the no-contact order expires, the victim can request an extension,” she said. “The court can then decide to extend it for another five years.”

On the other hand, no-contact orders can be dropped.

“We have to look at the facts of the case when we decide to do that,” Osborn said.

Victims who want to have a no-contact order dropped have to fill out an affidavit that is then presented to the judge, she said.

“We don’t just drop no-contact orders.”

Also, according to Osborn, if either the defendant or victim willingly ignores an order, they can be arrested and charged with violating the no-contact order.

If convicted of violating a no-contact order, the defendant must serve seven days in jail.

Although victims have been arrested for violating no-contact orders, Osborn said every case is different.

“If you have a situation where an abuse victim is with an abuser who has multiple convictions, you’ve got to be careful,” she said. “You might say the victim was willingly with the abuser, but you have to look at the facts to see what’s going on.”

Harris said the case is no different with protective orders; some people follow them, others violate them.

“There have been times where the defendant leaves the victim alone after being served,” Harris said. “And there are others who are unable to accept the consequences of violating the protective orders.”

Marie Harvey, D/SAOC assistant director/counselor, said some violations occur because most violators don’t like to lose control.

“Domestic violence is all about power and control,” Harvey said. “When you take away that control, some abusers become violent.”

According to Harvey, protective orders can only be filed if the violence is recent.

“They can’t file a protective order for something that happened five years ago,” she said. “There still needs to be some kind of evidence of a recent incident. We have them write it out with specifics from what happened.”

It’s the Webster County Sheriff’s Department that must serve both protective orders and no-contact orders.

Jim Stubbs, Webster County sheriff, said the orders are given high priority.

“If they’re in morning court, we try to get them served before they leave if they’re scheduled to be released,” Stubbs said. “We try to get them served as quickly as we can.”

According to Stubbs, every defendant is told verbally of the no-contact order, but the deputies are responsible for providing the hard copy to those involved.

“They’re very important, so we try to serve them as quickly as possible,” he said.

Osborn said it’s difficult to predict whether somebody will violate a no-contact order.

“For domestic abusers who repeatedly abuse their partner, I don’t think they care about that piece of paper,” she said. “The people who might have only one offense and don’t have involvement with police are more likely to not violate.”

She said victims should be aware that they also need to take precautions to protect themselves.

“They need to watch out for their own well-being as well,” she said. “They know what the no-contact order is and what it’ll do for them.”

Harris echoed Osborn’s comments.

“When they file a protective order,” she said, “they need to have a plan in place for how they’re going to move on.”