Whether or not you should expect violence to escalate after seeking a protection order.
Domestic violence survivors seek personal protection orders (PPOs) to help protect themselves (and their families and, in some states, pets) from their abusers. Once in place, they are intended to limit contact between abuser and survivor and serve as a deterrent by making certain actions by the abuser illegal.
But many survivors are rightfully concerned that seeking a protection order will only enrage an abuser and lead to an escalation in abuse once served. Indeed there are countless tragic examples of survivors being assaulted or killed while a protection order was in place.
“There is evidence that shows that it’s a very dangerous time when a woman wants to leave, whether or not there’s an order in place,” says Abdula R. Greene, Esq., a former domestic violence prosecutor and criminal defense attorney. “Now the aggressor sees they don’t have the control and oftentimes they want to take the control back.”
PPOs—Important but Imperfect
Much of the conversation on protection order effectiveness focuses on the many studies that explore how often they are or are not violated. Study results vary widely, though the National Institutes of Justice study found that about half of orders are violated.
Respondents to a survey on DomesticShelters.org said that 69 percent of protection orders were violated, but that the abuser received legal consequences as a result of the violation in only about one quarter of those instances. With another 16 percent saying an order reduced or stopped unwanted contact, the protection orders reduced risks in about one third of the total cases.
While enforcement of violations is imperfect, the order is a tool that can be used to hold abusers accountable. On that note, one of the next questions a survivor might ask is about the nature of the violations. Do the violations tend to be similar to the abuse that precipitated the order, or is the violation likely to be a form of abuse that is more or less intense in its frequency and type?
A number of studies have explored these topics, beginning with one that found that there was an escalation in the abusive behavior after a protection order was issued in 21 percent of cases where stalking had been a factor in the past. Additional research suggests that the risk of violation is greatest soon after its initiation and decreases over time; the same study noted that the most common violation was unwanted contact, unwelcome calls, threats and other psychological abuse tactics, with physical abuse occurring 17 percent of the time.
To Get One, or Not to Get One
In weighing whether or not to seek a protection order, what is clear is that there is a good chance it will be violated, that a survivor should be prepared accordingly, and that a protection order creates an enforceable legal standard.
“It is important to get one if you feel you’re not safe,” Greene says. “Obviously you can’t hold up a protection order if someone is coming to assault you. But they are effective in showing that you are serious about getting out and getting help.”
And even though a text to say “I love you,” may sound benign, it’s important to report all violations to law enforcement. “The orders are only effective when defendants are willing to report violations,” Greene says. Otherwise, your abuser may continue to violate the order and escalate interactions.
Whether or not you think your abuser will respect a protection order, it’s important to take safety precautions very seriously around the time you leave. To get started making plans, read “When It’s Time to Go.”
And for help in getting a protection order, contact a domestic violence advocate near you who can help you navigate the sometimes confusing legal system. Find advocates in your area by searching at DomesticShelters.org.
- June 17, 2016 By domesticshelters.org