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Bar News - February 15, 2017

Team Edward v. Team Jacob: The Law and Unrequited Love

Support Team Bella

Forget Team Edward and Team Jacob – Help Build Team Bella!

For nearly 25 years, DOVE has partnered with crisis centers throughout the state to connect survivors of intimate partner violence with private volunteer attorneys who provide representation at RSA 173-B hearings. The impact that DOVE attorneys have had on survivors of abuse cannot be overstated. Unfortunately, the relationship requirement under RSA 173-B has prevented many survivors of non-intimate partner violence from accessing the legal services that they, like Bella, greatly need.

Historically, even if Bella found her way to a crisis center and got an attorney to represent her in an action against Edward, she would likely still be left vulnerable to Jacob’s harassment and threats because they fall outside the relationship requirement of RSA 173-B and, therefore, don’t qualify for the services of the DOVE Project. However, DOVE is excited to announce that a Victims of Crime Act grant has made it possible to add a new component to the project. Soon, DOVE will begin training volunteer attorneys to provide representation to survivors like Bella under RSA 633:3-a. Because the stalking statute has no relationship requirement, this new component will allow DOVE to provide representation for survivors even when the opposing party is not, and was not, an intimate partner.

This expansion of the DOVE Project is still in the planning stages, but more information will be coming soon.

Fingers crossed Bella can hang on!

If you are a young woman, have one in your life, or generally pay attention to popular culture, you likely know the Twilight Saga – a story of two men, one a vampire and one a werewolf, competing for the love of 17-year-old Bella Swan.

The books (and movies) chronicle the fraught relationships among these three characters as they attempt to evade various enemy plot points, and are read as a classic love story enviable by the young women who comprise the story’s target audience. Unfortunately, the behavior of both men depict violence more than love. So, what happens when Bella comes to her senses, accepts that they are both bad news, and realizes she needs protection from the court?

The actions taken by both Vampire Edward and Werewolf Jacob in pursuit of Bella’s affection fit squarely within the definition of abuse under RSA 173-B. They are controlling, violent, jealous, and possessive. Edward routinely breaks into Bella’s house to watch her sleep; takes apart her car to prevent her from leaving home; refuses to let her see her friends; threatens her with physical and emotional recourse if she doesn’t do what he says; bruises her during physical and sexual interactions; and threatens that he could lose control of himself and kill her at any time.

Jacob isn’t much better. Throughout the story he ignores her repeated assertions that she’s not interested in him romantically and constantly shows up and harasses her at home, school, and even her wedding; sexually assaults her twice; waits outside her house to keep her from leaving to see Edward; and constantly threatens to kill her boyfriend.

Although both men’s actions likely rise to the level of a restraining order under RSA 173-B, the statute has a relationship requirement as well. RSA 173-B provides relief only when the opposing party is a family or household member, or a current or former sexual or intimate partner. Since Bella identifies Edward as either her boyfriend, ex-boyfriend, or husband throughout the series, both the relationship and abuse requirements are met, and she qualifies for protection under RSA 173-B. However, no such relationship exists between Bella and Jacob.

Thankfully, RSA 173-B is not the only vehicle to a restraining order. In some cases, the stalking statute, RSA 633:3-a, can provide relief when RSA 173-B fails. RSA 633:3-a does not have a relationship requirement. It focuses on continued conduct by the offending party and provides relief by incorporating RSA 173-B. Under the statute, an actor is guilty of stalking if she or he engages in a course of conduct purposely, knowingly, or recklessly; targeted at a specific person; that would cause a reasonable person to fear for her or his safety or the safety of an immediate family member; and that person is placed in fear. Alternately, an actor is guilty of stalking if she or he engages in a course of conduct that the actor knows will place the targeted person in fear for her or his safety or the safety of a member of an immediate family member.

This is where our protagonist finds relief from her werewolf suiter.

Some of Jacob’s behavior that qualifies for relief under RSA 173-B does not under RSA 633:3-a – such as his sexual assaults and interference with her freedom – because it does not appear to actually place Bella in fear, and he is unlikely to meet a heightened intent requirement. However, Jacob does engage in a course of conduct directly threatening the well-being of Edward – an immediate family member under the statute – that consistently causes Bella to express fear for Edward’s safety. Every time Jacob shows up at Bella’s school, house, and ultimately wedding, he reminds her that Edward is dangerous and threatens to kill him. And, every time, Bella begs him to leave her boyfriend alone.

Since the relief provided under RSA 173-B is incorporated into RSA 633:3-a, Bella is ultimately entitled to the same protection as she would be had the relationship requirement been met. However, accessing this relief requires understanding two statutes, attending two separate hearings, and proving different behaviors. This is a tall order for someone without legal training who appears to have never had a job and has been living off the wealth accrued by her husband’s family over the course of the last century.

With luck, Bella’s dad will come to his senses and not jest about sexual assault, and, benefitting from being half-vampire, Bella’s daughter will be more empowered than her mom. Together, they may be able to navigate the legal landscape and get Bella some protection. However, without legal assistance, Bella faces a tough road ahead.

Kerstin Cornell

Kerstin Cornell works for the NH Bar Association Pro Bono Program as the assistant coordinator for the DOVE Project and a staff attorney for the Low-Income Taxpayer Project. She holds an MA in media studies and a JD from UNH Law.

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