On July 1st, 2015, the Protection From Sexual Violence & Intimidation Act (PSVI) (read the whole act here) will go into effect. It provides a civil remedy that a perpetrator of sexual violence have no contact with the victim whether or not the victim seeks criminal prosecution. In many ways, the PSVI Act is a parallel to the Protection From Abuse Act, but it applies only to victims who do not have a familial or intimate relationship with their aggressor (i.e. co-workers or coaches). The relief given by the court is a “no contact” restraining order that can apply, but is not limited to, restraining the defendant from entering the victim’s residence, place of employment, business or school, whether directly or indirectly.
There are two separate protection orders available under the PSVI Act: (1) Sexual Violence Protection Orders (SVP) for victims of sexual violence, and (2) Protection from Intimidation Orders (PFI) for minor victims of intimidation. Both adults and minors can petition for the first category, but the PFI is restricted to minors. Importantly, the PFI only applies to defendants who are 18 years or older. Both categories include the “no contact” rule, and further relief as appropriate.
An important question is how “sexual violence” is defined. The Act purports to restrict it to conduct between persons that constitutes one of the following crimes: sexual offenses, endangering the welfare of children, corruption of minors, sexual abuse of children, unlawful contact with minor, sexual exploitation of children. “Intimidation” is defined as conduct constituting harassment or stalking.
The SVP/PFI order is obtained in a similar fashion as the PFA–through a no cost petition filed in a county prothonotary’s office. Once the petition is filed, the court will hold an ex parte hearing (that means, without the defendant) to determine whether a temporary order should be granted. Temporary orders are only appropriate where the plaintiff needs protection from immediate and present danger. Whether or not the temporary order is granted, a final hearing must be held within 10 business days of the petition being filed. At this hearing, the defendant is present and the claimant must prove by a preponderance of the evidence (that is, 50.01% or greater likelihood) a risk of harm. In true emergencies, magisterial district judges are allowed to grant temporary restraining orders, which will terminate the next business day the Court of Common Pleas is open.
Like a PFA, violating an SVP or PFI order can have criminal consequences. Where a violation occurs, the police may arrest the defendant and charge them with Indirect Criminal Contempt, a charge with a possible sentence of up to six months in prison and a fine of up to $1,000.
The PVSI Act also provides important protections for those seeking restraining orders. For instance, the PSVI statute makes communications with a sexual assault counselor confidential and privileged, as well as withholding the disclosure of the victim’s address.
Undoubtedly, the initial few weeks and months implementing this Act will cause some confusion over its reach and scope. To speak to a Fairlie & Lippy attorney about your exposure to an SVP or PFI, contact us here.