BUCKEYE, Ariz. — After waiting nearly two years, an Arizona mother is about to see a state law that bears her name go into effect.
Dubbed “Kayleigh’s Law," the statute will allow victims of dangerous crimes, including sex crimes, to petition courts for what amounts to a lifetime restraining order against their assailant.
“It just seems so obvious that victims should always have protection against the person who abused them,” said Kayleigh Kozak, a mother of five and a victims rights activist.
'It was hell'
Kayleigh’s cause is personal.
As a middle school student in Buckeye, a trusted adult in her life sexually abused her.
“He was my soccer coach, and soccer was my passion, and that’s where he really swept in,” Kayleigh said.
When Kayleigh and her family reported the abuse to the police, the community initially shunned her.
“When I showed up at the next soccer club tournament after I turned him in, the entire club was wearing shirts that said, ‘We support our coach,’” Kayleigh said. “It was hell.”
An audio recording later supported Kayleigh’s allegations, and her abuser was convicted.
'You don’t ever get to speak to me again'
As an adult wife and mother of five children, Kayleigh got a phone call in 2020 from probation officials. They notified her that her abuser was petitioning to have his probation lifted.
That would mean he would no longer be subject to court restrictions, such as being banned from contacting Kayleigh.
“It was like a bomb was dropped in my life. I can tell you exactly where I was standing when I got that phone call,” Kayleigh said.
Kayleigh learned there were no options for sex crime victims to get a lifetime injunction against their abuser. Such an injunction would provide a layer of protection, similar to an order of protection.
“You don’t get to do that. You don’t get to abuse a child and then later re-insert yourself into their life. You don’t ever get to speak to me again,” Kayleigh said.
Kayleigh partnered with Arizona State Sen. Sine Kerr, R-Buckeye, in 2021 to draft “Kayleigh’s Law,” the first of its kind in the country.
"Kayleigh’s Law provides a critical, first of its kind in the nation, true lifetime protection for victims of child sex abuse crimes as well as other crimes the permanent protection they deserve from their offenders," the senator wrote in a statement.
Victims of certain dangerous crimes and sex crimes have the option to petition the court for a lifetime injunction to prevent the offender from attempting to contact them in any form, even after their probation is lifted.
“It helps increase their sense of safety,” said Jamie Balson of Legal Services For Crime Victims In Arizona.
The law is similar to a standard order of protection because if the offender violates the order, they would get charged with interfering with a judicial proceeding.
The punishment includes up to six months in jail.
Balson is working to educate attorneys and crime victims about the law. She says it will also encourage crime victims to testify against their assailant because they would have legal protection against being harassed in the future.
“A lot of victims hesitate to come forward and tell what happened for fear of retribution,” Balson said.
The law takes effect on Sept. 24. Victims can utilize it for retroactive cases or current cases.
Another benefit of the law is it will not require crime victims to make appeals to a court in the future to fight a probation termination.
“It prevents re-victimization and trauma,” Kayleigh said. “By having this in place, I don’t have to have this lingering over my head years down the road.”
Campaigning to pass the law in other states
Kayleigh traveled to Wisconsin to testify to the state legislature, prompting a similar law to pass there in April.
“It’s wonderful, but two states is not enough. There is an entire nation to protect and I will fight for victims everywhere,” Kayleigh said.
Later this month, Kayleigh will finally be able to petition the court for the lifetime injunction that she’s been fighting for.
“Victims endure so much. And to have that hanging over you, no way that should be allowed,” Kayleigh said.
The courts are working to make the process easy for victims to be able to request the injunctions, Balson said.
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