Celena Roby's abuser admitted to the judge that he had confined his wife and held her against her will, but he was nonetheless able to walk out of the courtroom a free man. Roby says the judge decided he was not guilty because she wasn't afraid enough of being harmed, even though this was a pattern of abuse, both physical assault and restraint, that had gone on for 11 years. "This is why women don't leave," Roby told the arresting officer. She said she had been cut off from having friends, and felt like she was being kept in a "three-bedroom prison."
But Roby did leave, The Charleston Gazette reports, after her seven-year-old son, having seen her head smashed into the wall, thought that his mother should have just answered her abuser's question more quickly so as to escape harm. And then she decided to do something about this miscarriage of justice. That's when she came up with Celena's Law.
Celena's Law is modeled on legislation in 38 states that makes unlawful restraint a misdemeanor. In West Virginia, where Roby lives, kidnapping is a felony, but only applies to restraint intended to obtain a "concession" (ransom), which doesn't apply to domestic abuse situations. Which means that a domestic violence perpetrator, like Roby's husband, can stroll into a courtroom, admit to restraining his wife against her will, and walk out again a free man and confessed abuser. And it means that prosecutors have fewer ways to go after domestic violence perpetrators.
Roby is working in conjunction with the West Virginia Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sheriff's Association on getting support for the bill. "It's the most frustrating part of this job, when you know that someone is the victim of a crime or situation but there's nothing on the books to help that person," Barbour County Sheriff John Hawkins, head of the Sheriff's Association, commented. Their efforts have already persuaded seven state delegates and three senators to support her bill, netting Senate Judiciary Chairman Jeff Kessler (D-Marshall) as the lead sponsor.
The bill will come up for a vote in the new legislative session, which starts January 12, and Hawkins believe it has a strong chance of success. But you can help to make sure Celena's Law gets the votes it needs by signing this petition asking West Virginia lawmakers to help protect domestic violence victims.
Roby states, "I do know this law won't change what happened to me, but if I get to see this law help one person, that's really all the justice the boys and I could ever ask for."
Photo credit: Support Celena's LAW Facebook Page