Evolving Laws: Cyberstalking as Domestic Abuse in Obtaining Protective Orders

computer_computers_1245714-1024x680Domestic violence affects countless individuals, and while physical harm may be the most obvious form of abuse, technology has expanded the range of abuses victims endure. Filing for a protective order is one action victims can take to address domestic violence. This case delves into whether cyberstalking qualifies as domestic abuse to obtain a protective order, highlighting how the law adapts to address technological advancements and protect victims.

Alicia Shaw and Melvin Young lived in New Orleans, Louisiana. After they had been married for just over a year, Shaw filed for a protective order under the Louisiana Domestic Abuse Assistance Law, La. R.S. 46:2131. She alleged that Young had punched, shoved, and threatened her with bodily harm. The trial court entered an Order of Protection. 

A few months later, Young filed for divorce on fault under La. C.C. art. 103. Shaw also sought a permanent protective order against Young. In support, Shaw testified that Young posted messages threatening to provide private photos of her to others. She also claimed that Young sent her friends messages saying “bad things” about her. Young also made posts on Facebook claiming she had broken into his home and accusing her of abusing the immigration system. She explained that as a result, she constantly feared Young, lost her hair and became isolated. After a trial, the court entered a judgment granting the divorce and granting Shaw a permanent protective order against Young. Young appealed. 

The appellate court reviews a trial court’s decision to deny a protective order under the abuse of discretion standard.  To obtain a protective order under the Domestic Abuse Assistance Law, a petitioner must prove the allegations by a preponderance of the evidence. 

The appellate court explained that under Louisiana law, abuse includes “any offense against the person. This can include threats and harassment. The crime of stalking explicitly references “harassing” another individual, which can consist of verbal communications, phone calls, messages, letters, or other such actions. 

The court rejected Young’s arguments that his Facebook page was private, so he did not intend for Shaw to see his messages. The court explained there was no other reason for Young to post the messages about Shaw other than to communicate them to her or other people who might share them with her. The appellate court found Young’s actions, such as sending threatening messages, was harassment within the stalking statute and also constituted domestic abuse. Therefore, cyberstalking is considered domestic abuse to obtain a protective order under La. R.S. 46:2131, so the trial court did not abuse its discretion by granting Shaw a permanent protective order against Young. 

Shaw’s case sheds light on the evolving legal landscape surrounding domestic violence and the impact of technology on abusive behavior. The appellate court’s decision emphasized that cyberstalking, including threatening messages and online harassment, falls within the realm of domestic abuse to obtain a protective order. This recognition reflects the need for laws to keep pace with technological developments and protect victims from various forms of abuse. If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, seeking the guidance of a skilled attorney is crucial to explore legal avenues, such as filing for a protective order, that can help ensure your safety and well-being.

Additional Sources: Alicia Annabelle Shaw v. Melvin Keith Young

Written by Berniard Law Firm

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