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The Utah Court of Appeals this past week gave victims of domestic disputes another reason to believe that they can escape from the vicious cycle of abuse.

The court's sensible ruling said that victims of domestic violence do not have to prove they are in imminent danger before they can get a court order to keep the abuser away.The landmark decision overturned a lower court's ruling that denied a protective order to a Tooele woman, who described a marriage of terrors in which she suffered beatings for eight years. When she served her husband with divorce papers, he threatened to kill her.

Third District Court Judge David Young ruled that the woman hadn't been beaten in seven months and that the law required an immediate danger before a protective order could be issued. The appellate court disagreed.

"The statute clearly protects those who are reasonably in fear of physical harm resulting from past conduct coupled with a present fear of future harm. Otherwise, the prophylactic purpose of the statute would be defeated. We do not think the Legislature intended such a result," Associate Presiding Judge Judith Billings wrote.

That appears to be logical. The law would be pointless if it did not protect the abused from future beatings or worse.

The danger to battered spouses cannot be underestimated, especially when a pattern of abuse over years has been established.

Almost any situation, however trivial, could be the trigger, causing the abuser to explode with violence. Experts have said that as the cycle of abuse continues, the violence often escalates and could turn deadly at any point.

Unfortunately, the court's ruling won't end the tension, beatings and other indignities that combine to make the ugly family life called "domestic violence."

But it is hoped it will send an appropriate message to victims of abuse that there are legal remedies they can seek - and that the courts will be sympathetic.