Under the Protection of Victims of Sexual Violence or Intimidation Act, a person (the “petitioner”) can seek a restraining order against another person (the “defendant”) if they assert that they're the victim of sexual violence and they're worried for their ongoing safety. If the victim has been sexually assaulted, they can seek what's known as a sexual violence protection order (SVPO) – here's how SVPOs work.
Sexual Violence Protection Orders
SVPOs are civil court orders designed to protect victims from sexual assault or violence. If granted, these orders prevent the alleged abuser from contacting the petitioner or behaving sexually towards them.
As SVPOs are civil rather than criminal, they don't automatically trigger criminal charges against the defendant. However, criminal charges may still apply depending on the circumstances of the case.
There are two types of SVPOs: temporary and final.
- Temporary SVPOs: These orders are granted to protect the petitioner in the short term until a final SVPO hearing can be scheduled (usually within ten days).
- Final SVPOs: Final SVPOs may only be granted against the defendant after a formal court hearing where both sides are properly represented. If granted, final SVPOs can only be revoked by the court following an appeal or at the petitioner's request.
Depending on the circumstances, it might be more appropriate to file for a Protection from Abuse (PFA) order or a Protection from Intimidation order (PFIO). Joseph Lento can ensure you apply for the appropriate order in your case.
Who Can Apply for a Sexual Violence Protection Order
Any person can file for a sexual violence protection order – there's no need for the petitioner to be in a relationship with the defendant or to live in the same household. As such, SVPOs can be filed against strangers, landlords, neighbors, or acquaintances such as work colleagues.
If you have children with the alleged abuser, live in the same household as them, or you are intimate partners, then you can file for a PFA instead.
The SVPO Application Process
To apply for a sexual violence protection order, the petitioner must assert that:
- They're the victim of sexual intimidation or violence
- The defendant is the person responsible for these actions
- They're at continued risk of harm from the defendant
For a judge to grant the order, the petitioner doesn't need to prove they're a sexual violence victim. They only need to prove, based on the “preponderance of the evidence,” that they're at continued risk of harm.
Temporary and Final SVPOs
Remember, temporary SVPOs are often granted readily to protect sexual violence victims from further harm. The defendant will not have a chance to present their own defense until the final hearing, at which point the defendant can present their own evidence and witness testimonies.
If the judge believes that the petitioner is at continued risk of sexual harm, they will grant the final SVPO against the defendant. Otherwise, the temporary order will expire, and the case will conclude.
Consequences of a Sexual Violence Protection Order
Since SVPOs are designed to protect victims from potential harm, defendants are usually prohibited from contacting the petitioner in any way, even if it's indirectly through another person. They may also be prevented from visiting the petitioner at home or work or another place they go frequently.
These restrictions can seriously impact a defendant's daily life. The individual might also face social stigma from friends, colleagues, and family members due to the accusations. Petitioners may also suffer mentally and emotionally from the stress of the situation, especially if they're concerned that the defendant may violate the order.
Dismissing or Appealing Sexual Violence Protection Orders
It's often possible to change, dismiss, or appeal SVPOs.
- As a petitioner, you can appeal a judge's decision to refuse to grant the SVPO, or you can file to have the order amended or canceled.
- If you're a defendant, you can appeal the decision to grant the order.
Filing an appeal or requesting an amendment to an existing SVPO can be complex. To ensure you file the right paperwork within the applicable time limits, consult Joseph Lento rather than attempting to file alone.
If granted, a final SVPO stays in place for up to 36 months. However, if the court believes that the defendant may still pose a danger to the petitioner, then the order could be extended.
There's no cap on how many times a court may extend a final SVPO, so if you're subject to such a restraining order, the restrictions could last indefinitely.
False Sexual Violence Allegations
SVPOs exist to keep victims of abuse safe, so they should never be abused. If a person makes false allegations against another person, whether this means giving law enforcement the wrong information or making false reports in order to have someone arrested, they could face second or third-degree misdemeanor charges under Title 18, Section 4906 of the PA Consolidated Statutes.
Violating a Sexual Violence Protection Order
SVPOs might be civil orders, but a defendant could face criminal charges if they violate the order in any way.
- Law enforcement can arrest a defendant for allegedly violating the SVPO without a warrant if there's probable cause to make the arrest.
- SVPO violations could result in a criminal contempt charge. The penalties for such an offense include fines of up to $1,000 or probation or jail time for up to six months.
- The court can extend the SVPO following a criminal contempt charge if the plaintiff files a request for them to do so.
- The defendant could face additional criminal charges for any alleged criminal acts committed during the alleged violation.
Retain the services of an experienced SVPO attorney immediately if you're concerned about violating your SVPO or facing criminal contempt charges.
Hire a Sexual Violence Protection Order Attorney
The courts take sexual violence accusations extremely seriously. If you wish to seek an SVPO, or there's a chance someone may seek such an order against you, then you need legal advice from an experienced SVPO attorney.
Attorney Joseph Lento has supported numerous individuals dealing with sexual violence concerns, and he's ready and waiting to help you today. To learn more about how the Lento Law Firm can help or to retain our services, tell us about your case online or call at 888.535.3686.