Civil Protective Order Effectiveness: Justice or Just a Piece of Paper?

Article excerpt

Many victims, victim advocates, and even law enforcement believe that protective orders are "just a piece of paper," suggesting that they do not work or are not effective. This study examined protective order effectiveness by following 210 women for 6 months after obtaining a protective order. There are four main themes that were identified from the study results. First, protective orders were not violated for half of the women in the sample during the 6-month follow-up period. Second, even among those who experienced violations, there were significant reductions in abuse and violence. Third, overall, women were less fearful of future harm from the PO partner at the 6-month follow-up, and a vast majority felt the protective order was fairly or extremely effective. Fourth, stalking emerges as a significant risk factor for protective order violations, sustained fear, and lower perceived effectiveness of the protective order. Implications for practice and future research are discussed.

Keywords : partner violence; stalking protective orders; protection order; domestic violence

Partner violence affects about 1.8 million women each year ( Tjaden & Thonnes, 2000 ). Although all states have criminal laws against partner violence, the criminal system has a number of features that make addressing partner violence cumbersome. Thus, to increase protection for victims of partner violence, all states have enacted civil protective orders, which provide victims of partner violence with a time-limited judicial injunction that directs the offender to refrain from further abusive behavior ( Buzawa & Buzawa, 1996 ; DeJong & Burgess-Proctor, 2006 ; Eigenberg, Berry, Hall, & McGuffee, 2003 ). There are several advantages to civil protective orders (see Logan, Shannon, Walker, & Faragher, 2006 for a full discussion of advantages and disadvantages of protective orders).

First, consistent with civil process and because the purpose of protective orders is to prevent future unlawful and violent behavior, there is a lower burden of proof than would be required for criminal charges. Criminal cases require a higher level of proof-beyond reasonable doubt-whereas civil protective orders only require a preponderance of evidence ( Buzawa & Buzawa, 1996 ; Finn, 1989 , 1991 ). Further, there are fewer financial and time costs associated with processing civil protective orders than criminal cases.

Second, punishment is usually faster for those who violate civil protective orders compared to adjudication and sentencing procedures for criminal offenses. Violations of civil protective orders can be addressed with a contempt of court charge, and contempt hearings can be concluded quicker than criminal trials ( Lemon, 2001 ). In addition, many states have protective order statutes that provide police with the authority to arrest for violation of its terms rather than having to determine probable cause as to whether a crime has been committed as would be required in other circumstances.

Third, civil protective orders can provide a source of empowerment and flexibility for victims in meeting their specific needs ( Buzawa & Buzawa, 1996 ; Eigenberg et al., 2003 ; Finn, 1991 ; Fischer & Rose, 1995 ). Civil protective orders can be obtained through a direct individual petition process, unlike criminal or other legal proceedings, which require a legal representation to petition the court for various actions and relief. Further, civil protective orders are supposed to provide situational specificity in meeting women's safety needs. For example, victims may be interested in securing future safety but not necessarily from punishing the perpetrator ( Bachman, 1998 ; Herman, 2003 ; Orth, 2003 ). Also, civil protective orders allow judges to provide relief that can be crafted for each individual case in order to address the specific violence as well as provisions for children, child support, and counseling. …