Pennsylvania takes allegations of sexual violence or intimation very seriously. The state has numerous laws to protect victims that fall under the Pennsylvania Protection of Victims of Sexual Violence or Intimidation Act (PSVI), and the state prosecutes alleged crimes aggressively. As such, sometimes innocent people can come under investigation or even be arrested for alleged sexual violence.
If you are a victim of sexual violence, you need to understand your options for obtaining protection from your abuser. Likewise, if you have been arrested for sexual violence or intimidation, or are under investigation, you should understand the laws related to these offenses so that you can better prepare to answer the charges and present an effective defense.
Whether a victim or an alleged offender, you will want to consult with an experienced attorney in Pennsylvania who understands the state's laws regarding sexual violence and can help you obtain the protections you need or work with you in developing a strong defense strategy.
Pennsylvania's Laws Regarding Sexual Violence or Intimidation
Pennsylvania's PSVI applies to adults and children under the age of 18. The law covers situations where the abuser is not a member of the victim's family or household, and it provides ways for victims to obtain protection orders against their abusers.
To get a protection order for sexual violence or intimidation, you must show that you were victimized by someone who is not a current family member or member of your household or is not someone with whom you have had an intimate relationship.
For protection from family and household members or former romantic partners, you will need to obtain a Protection from Abuse order (PFA), which we will discuss later.
To obtain a protection order, you must show the offender committed at least one act of sexual violence or intimidation against you, and the alleged perpetrator does not have to have been arrested, nor do you have to notify law enforcement of the alleged offense.
Types of Sexual Violence or Intimidation
Sexual violence refers to any sexual offense listed under Title 18, Chapter 31 of Pennsylvania's State Code, which includes:
- Involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, which can include oral or anal penetration (sodomy), sex with an animal, or penetration of the genitals or anus with a foreign object outside a legitimate medical, hygienic, or law enforcement reason
- Forcible compulsion, which includes using psychological, emotional, or physical force
- Foreign objects that are not a part of the body
- Indecent contact, such as touching someone's genitals
- Sexual acts that result in serious bodily injury
Sexual violence also includes:
- Endangering the welfare of children, if the offense involved sexual contact with a child
- Sexual abuse of children
- Sexual exploitation of children
- Corruption of minors
- Unlawful contact with a minor
Intimidation refers to situations where the abuser is over 18 years of age, the victim is a minor, and the offender commits any of the following crimes:
Intimidation cases may involve a child's coaches, teachers, scoutmasters, or any other adult who is not related to the child.
Types of Protection Orders
For intimidation, victims can pursue a Protection from Intimidation Order (PFIO) if the abuser is over 18, whether they are an acquaintance or complete stranger to the victim. An adult, such as a parent or guardian, must petition for a PFIO on a minor's behalf, and some situations that could warrant a PFIO include:
- An adult repeatedly harasses or intimidates a child while they are waiting for a school bus
- A teacher harasses a student online
- An adult coach harasses or stalks a student-athlete under the age of 18
Adults and minors may also request a Sexual Violence Protection Order (SVPO). The court may grant this protection order in situations where the alleged abuser is not a family or household member or is not a current or former spouse or dating partner. For instance, you can get an SVPO if the abuser is a stranger, a co-worker, or an acquaintance.
A PFIO or SVPO will be valid for three years, and both can be expanded to prevent an associate of the offender from intimidating or contacting you on their behalf. For instance, if you get a PFIO against a co-worker, the person cannot ask a friend, family member, or acquaintance to contact or intimidate you.
Both orders prohibit the offender from having any contact with you, and their protections can extend to the offender entering your home, school, or workplace.
Protections from Abuse Orders (PFA)
In situations that involve sexual abuse or intimidation from someone with whom the victim has a close personal relationship, the victim may petition to receive a Protection from Abuse (PFA) order against any of the following:
- A family member
- A current or former member of the household
- A current or former spouse
- A current or former boyfriend or girlfriend
- Someone with whom the victim had a child
If warranted, a judge can issue a PFA order against an abuser that requires the person to stay away from the victim, and it can be used in situations of domestic violence, dating violence, or stalking and harassment.
PFA orders serve to protect victims of domestic violence, which Pennsylvania law defines as acts, attempts, or threats involving:
- Bodily injury
- Sexual or indecent assault
- Involuntary deviate sexual intercourse
- Child abuse, including child sexual abuse
- False imprisonment
Upon receiving a request for a PFA, a judge will evaluate the matter and review all evidence and information provided to determine whether to issue the order. In many cases, a judge will issue a temporary restraining order (TRO) that will protect the victim until a formal hearing can be held. The judge will likely schedule a full heading within ten days of issuing the TRO.
Emergency Protection Orders
You may be in a situation where you feel your life or safety is in immediate danger, and you need protection when the court is not in session, such as at night or over the weekend.
In this case, you may be able to obtain an emergency protection order. You can call 911 or your local police or sheriff's office, and the operator or officer should be able to tell you which magistrate judge is on call. You should be able to obtain the judge's phone number or a number where you can reach them, and the judge may issue an emergency protection order. However, you will have to go to court the next business day to request an ex parte temporary PFA. If you don't, the emergency protection order will expire, and you will have to go to court and petition for a PFA through normal means.
Ex Parte Temporary PFA
If a judge feels you or your children are in danger of domestic or sexual violence, they can issue an ex parte temporary PFA. The term “ex parte” means that no one will have to notify the abuser prior to the judge issuing the order, and the abuser does not have to be present in court for the judge to issue it.
The temporary order will remain valid until the formal hearing, which the court typically schedules within ten days after issuing the order. Additionally, you should inform the judge if you know the abuser has guns or other weapons so the judge can inform law enforcement.
At the full hearing, each side will be able to present their cases, and you may present your own testimony, witness statements, and evidence. Upon finding sufficient cause, the judge may then issue a final PFA. The PFA may contain any of the following provisions:
- The abuser cannot harass, stalk, threaten, or attempt to use physical force against you or your minor children
- The abuser must surrender their firearms and/or firearm license to the police or sheriff's department
- The abuser may not purchase or obtain any additional firearms
- The abuser must attend counseling or therapy
Like a PFIO or SVPO, the Final PFA will remain valid for three years, and you may extend the protection under certain circumstances. Circumstances include the abuser committing further offenses against you or your children after the final PFA was issued or behaving in a manner that creates a continued risk to you or your children.
If necessary, you can extend the order more than once, and you have no limit to the number of orders you can receive. Furthermore, if the abuser was in jail when you filed for your extension and was released or scheduled to be released within 90 days of your filing, you do not have to prove either of the two circumstances mentioned above.
If the abuser lives outside Pennsylvania, you may still be able to obtain an order of protection if the abuser has a substantial connection to Pennsylvania. Examples include working in the state, being a college student, or traveling to the state regularly to visit family. It also includes people who lived in Pennsylvania but recently moved.
You may also get a protection order if the offense occurred inside the state. This can include someone in another state sending you or your children threatening or harassing text messages, for instance. Further, the court may serve a petition to someone visiting Pennsylvania to establish the state's jurisdiction.
Additionally, Congress passed the Violence Against Women Act in 2022. This law requires all states and municipalities to honor protection orders issued in other states. Therefore, you should always keep an official copy of your PFA with you when you travel.
Costs and Legal Counsel
It does not cost anything to request a PFIO, SVPO, or PFA, and you do not need an attorney to file for a protection order. However, you may want to have a lawyer during any hearings, especially if the abuser has retained an attorney.
If you are a victim, a lawyer can help ensure you follow the process correctly for obtaining an order of protection, and an attorney can explain your rights and options and offer additional information that may help your situation both presently and in the future. Also, there are non-profit organizations that can help you get an attorney if you cannot afford one.
If you are the alleged abuser, you certainly want to retain an attorney who has experience fighting protection orders to help you understand, protect, and assert your rights and appeal the petition. This is especially important if the alleged victim has also filed criminal charges against you.
Penalties for Violating Protection Orders
Technically, PFIOs, SVPOs, and PFAs are civil in nature; however, violating them can result in serious legal consequences. If someone violates a protection order, they can be arrested for Indirect Criminal Contempt (ICC). A perpetrator may be arrested upon probable cause without a warrant, regardless of whether an officer witnessed the offense.
A person arrested for an ICC violation will attend a hearing within ten days of an officer filing a complaint or charge. If they do not attend the hearing, the court will issue a warrant for their arrest.
Sentences can include fines of $300 to $1,000, along with up to six months in prison or supervised probation.
Get the Help You Need
If you believe you or your children are in danger or they are being harassed by an adult, you should take the necessary measures to protect yourself and those you love. The legal professionals at the Lento Law Firm can help you with all aspects of obtaining a PFIO, SVPO, or PFA, and we can help you enforce any order you receive. Call us at 888-535-3686 for help.
If you believe someone will try to obtain a protection order against you, or they already have, you should retain an attorney who has extensive knowledge of Pennsylvania's sexual violence and intimidation laws and experience challenging petitions for orders of protection. It is vitally important you have an attorney during any hearings, particularly if the allegations are untrue. You also want an experienced criminal defense attorney if you are facing criminal charges. Call the Lento Law Firm at 888-535-3686 or fill out our contact form to request a confidential consultation.