The District of Columbia Court of Appeals late last week found that under D.C. law, civil protection orders must be available to those who claim they’ve been stalked or sexually assaulted by a stranger.
The Dec. 22 decision reversed a D.C. Superior Court judge’s finding that civil protection orders could only serve as a remedy for stalking or assault victims when the parties had been “intimate” partners, or had been in an “interpersonal…or intrafamily” relationship.
According to the appeals judges’ decision, the case in question began when “A.R.” filed a petition for a civil protection order in the Domestic Violence Unit of D.C. Superior Court in February of this year. A.R. claimed that “F.C.,” a friend of her ex-boyfriend, had sexually assaulted her.
The trial did not rule on the substance of A.R.’s claims. Rather, the judge found that as a matter of law, there was “no relationship that would make this an appropriate matter for the Domestic Violence Court.”
The appellate panel—including Court of Appeals Judge John Fisher, writing on behalf of Judge Anna Blackburne-Rigsby and Senior Judge Theodore Newman—found that two portions of the D.C. Code, read together, made it clear that the trial judge’s decision needed to be reversed.
The appeals panel concluded that the trial judge misread the law. The panel found that the law was worded badly, and that the D.C. Council had meant to make it clear that the petitioner could be any person who alleged stalking, sexual assault or sexual abuse—not necessarily a romantic partner or family member of the alleged abuser.
“Because [two provisions in the D.C. Code] in combination make civil protection orders available to persons who allege stalking, sexual assault, or sexual abuse but have no prior relationship with the alleged offender, we reverse and remand for further proceedings,” the panel found.
The alleged offender, F.C., represented himself pro se and is unnamed in court papers. The D.C. attorney general’s office, which is representing A.R., said they were pleased with the appellate ruling.
“We applaud the court of appeals’ opinion, which held that victims of sexual assault, sexual abuse, and stalking are entitled to such protections under the terms of the statute,” the office said in a statement, “without regard to their relationship with the perpetrator, ensuring that these victims will have a forum to pursue civil orders protecting them from further contact with the assailant.”
—Zoe Tillman contributed to this report