A Victim Protective Order (VPO) is an order that can be used to help stop violent and harassing behavior and to protect you and your family from the person causing you harm. A VPO may be issued when a person is a victim of (1) domestic abuse, (2) stalking, or (3) harassment. This article will discuss each of these and how they apply to you.
A VPO may be issued when you have been a victim of domestic abuse. Under Oklahoma law, domestic abuse means any act of physical harm, or the threat of imminent physical harm committed by a family member or person in a dating relationship. Oklahoma has interpreted a dating relationship to mean a courtship or engagement. An engagement is relatively easy to recognize. It’s when you are trying to prove that you and the abuser were in a courtship that problems arise. To be in a dating relationship you and the abuser must focus on one another in some way. There must be a series of repeated events that signifies the two of you were in a monogamous, exclusive relationship. One date and never speaking again is typically not considered a dating relationship.
In order for you to successfully obtain a VPO for domestic abuse you must be a victim of actual physical harm or be able to show that the defendant threatened imminent physical harm to you. Without physical harm or a threat of imminent physical harm a VPO cannot be issued for domestic abuse.
The second way a VPO can protect you is when you are a victim of stalking. In order for you to successfully obtain a VPO against a person for stalking the person doing the stalking must be doing it willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly. That is, the stalking cannot be an isolated event. The stalking must also be in a manner that would cause a reasonable person to feel frightened, intimidated, threatened, harassed, or molested and the stalking must actually cause you to have one of those feelings. For example, suppose a person willfully and repeatedly follows you on your morning walks, if a reasonable person would feel frightened, intimidated, threatened, harassed, or molested then you may be a victim of stalking. However, in order for you to successfully obtain a VPO against that person for stalking you must actually have suffered from one of those feelings. If you have not suffered from one, or more, of the feelings mentioned than you are not a victim of stalking and cannot obtain a VPO.
You can be a victim of stalking even if you are not being followed by a person. Under Oklahoma law, you can be a victim of stalking when a person (a) follows you or appears within your sight, (b) approaches or confronts you in a public place or on private property, (c) appears at your house or workplace, (d) enters onto or remains on property you own, lease, or occupy, (e) contacts you by telephone, (f) sends you mail or electronicaly communicates with you, or (g) places an object on, or delivers an object to, property you own, lease, or occupy. This is not a complete list of ways you can be stalked. The list merely shows that there are more ways to being stalked than simply being followed.
It is also very important to remember that filing a petition for stalking against a person who is neither a family or household member nor a person who you have been in a dating relationship with, without having first filed a complaint with a law enforcement agency, constitutes a frivolous filing. This means your petition for a VPO will automatically be dismissed and you can be charged court costs and attorney’s fees.
Another instance when a VPO may be issued to protect you and your family is when you are a victim of harassment. Oklahoma law defines harassment as a knowing and willful course of conduct by a family or household member or an individual who is or has been involved in a dating relationship with the person. In other words, if you believe you are a victim of harassment and seek to obtain a VPO against the person harassing you, the person you seek the VPO against must either be a family member or a person living in your residence, or you must currently or previously have been in a dating relationship with that person.
In order for you to successfully obtain a VPO for harassment the harassing behavior must have also been specifically directed at you and the behavior must seriously alarm or annoy you. You must personally be the target of the harassing behavior and the behavior must seriously bother you. The harassing behavior must also serve no legitimate purpose. In order to be a victim of harassment, the harassing behavior must be the type of behavior that would cause a reasonable person to suffer substantial emotional distress, and the behavior must actually cause substantial distress to you. For example, if you believe you are a victim of harassment, the harassing behavior must be the type of behavior that an average person would consider harassing. Although an average person may consider the behavior to be harassing, if you do not personally suffer any emotional distress from that harassing behavior then you cannot obtain a VPO for harassment.
Protections Under a VPO
If you are granted a VPO the order may do one, or more, things to protect you and your loved ones. A VPO may order an abuser to: (a) stop abusing you, (b) stop threatening you, (c) not contact you, (d) not stalk or harass you, (e) not visit your children, (f) leave the home that he/she shares with you, (g) pay your attorney’s fees, (h) suspend the abusers right to bear arms, and/or (i) attend counseling programs. A court can order a VPO to remain in force for up to 4 years. In common practice, judges in Oklahoma County regularly use the 4 year legal maximum.
Enforcement of VPO
The first time a person violates a VPO, under Oklahoma law, that person, upon conviction, will be guilty of a misdemeanor and may be fined up to $1000 or placed in jail for up to 1 year. If a person has previously violated a VPO, and is convicted of a subsequent violation, that person shall be guilty of a felony and will be placed in jail for at least 1 year but possibly up to 3 years, or the person may be fined up to $2,000.
In Oklahoma, if a person is convicted of violating a VPO by causing physical injury that person will be found guilty of a misdemeanor and placed in prison from 20 days to 1 year, the person may also be fined up to $5,000. A person who is convicted of violating a VPO by causing physical injury for a second time will be found guilty of a felony and punished by being placed in prison anywhere from 1 to 5 years, or fined anywhere from $3,000 to $10,000, or may be fined and placed in jail.
Fees and Costs
Under Oklahoma law, there are no filing fees, service of process fees, defendant’s attorney fees or any other fees or costs charged to you, the victim, at any time for filing for a VPO whether the order is granted or not. The court may assess costs to the abuser, and order them to pay your attorney’s fees, if a protective order is granted. However, it is important to keep in mind that although there are no costs or fees associated with filing for a VPO, if your filing is found to be frivolous, the court may impose attorney fees and court costs on you. If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic abuse, harassment, or stalking, please seek professional legal counsel or law enforcement immediately. Please protect yourself and be safe.