Restraining orders, also known as civil protection orders, are utilized in situations when a person wants to keep another person from taking some sort of action against them. The action could be abuse (physical, sexual, threats of danger); stalking; harassment; or civil action, such as keeping a spouse from damaging property in the middle of a divorce.
Restraining orders can be useful and in most cases effective. However, some argue that restraining orders are not effective because they are only a piece of paper.
Filing a Petition For an Order of Protection
Anyone who feels threatened or in danger can file a petition for a restraining order. Local law enforcement agencies have the appropriate paperwork and officials can assist with the process. Even if transportation is an issue or if the victim is unaware of where to file a petition for an order, calling law enforcement is all the victim needs to do.
When law enforcement officials are called to a domestic violence situation, they can file temporary restraining orders on the victim's behalf until the victim can apply for a long-term order of protection for themselves. However, these emergency protective orders are only short-term remedies, but they are typically free. Depending on the state, they may last only last 5-7 days, until the court can hold a hearing, or for some other short-term period of time. Then, the victim may receive a temporary restraining order or a permanent one.
Restraining orders are designed to protect a victim from an abuser. Even though restraining orders are legally binding documents processed through the court, it is indeed just a piece of paper. When an abuser is placed on an restraining order, it's not as if they are physically restrained or placed into confinement. They are simply told to stay away from the victim or to refrain from a particular action.
Naturally, restraining orders are going to be violated and at times be ineffective. Due to potentially serious repercussions if violated, restraining orders typically serve their purpose - to deter someone away from another. However, there are always going to be those people who do not comply with the order.
Restraining Order Statistics
Research has concluded that victims seek restraining orders only after multiple experiences with serious abuse. The majority of individuals who seek restraining orders have experienced physical and sexual assault, threats of harm or death, stalking, and harassment.
But only a very small percentage of victims seek orders of protection. It is thought that victims fear the abuser will become more violent or continue the harassment.
Violations of restraining orders are common and are usually paired with significant danger to the victim. The National Institute of Justice completed a two-year follow-up study of restraining order in 1998. The results found that stalkers had the highest rate of re-offending, and here are some additional statistics.
- 48.8% of victims were abused again by the batterer after filing the order;
- 69% of stalked women were stalked again;
- 81% of stalked men were stalked again; and
- 21% of victims experienced increased stalking and violence.
Violators Aren't Always Arrested
Often people believe that if a restraining order is issued, then they are protected and safe. It's also understood that if the order is violated, legal action will be taken. However, this isn't always the case. Unfortunately, one study found that only 44% of restraining order violations resulted in arrest.
Surprisingly, it was also found that the more violations the individual had, the less likely an arrest would be made. Researchers believe this is due to law enforcement not looking into the individual's history to identify a pattern of violence. Unless the victim reports a history of continued violations, law enforcement may not take the time to dig deeper.
Importance of Victim's Report
As previously mentioned, restraining orders do not physically restrain the abuser from the victim. However, by making the order very specific and consistently enforcing it at all times with the aid of law enforcement officials, restraining orders can become more effective.
However, a prerequisite to enforcement of the order is the victim making law enforcement aware of violations. If the abuser violates the order in any way, even minimally, the victim needs to take immediate action. It is important the victim reports to law enforcement the entire history of the abuser to ensure appropriate action is taken. When victims pick and choose when they want to enforce the order, it only makes the situation worse and more dangerous. It is a good idea for the victim to carry a copy of the order to be provided to law enforcement when needed.
Cost of Restraining Orders
In addition to victims fearing a restraining order won't be effective, another common issue is the cost. Each state has its own regulations, laws, and costs regarding restraining orders. They may charge anywhere between $100 to $400. Regardless of the cost and state, the point is restraining orders are not free. This can be an issue for some individuals and could potentially limit a victim's ability to file for an order. It can be difficult to come up with the funds to file for an order and financial reasons could be the only reason why a victim continues to experience abuse.
Violating Restraining Orders
If an abuser violates a restraining order and is arrested, judges choose the consequences. Research suggested that judges should consider placing high bail or no bail on the offender to protect the victim. Because the abuser has already violated the order, he/she is more likely to violate it again. Consequences for restraining order violations can range from fines to misdemeanor charges to felony-level charges. Researchers believe that jail time or other serious consequences should be considered to keep the abuser from violating in the future.
Domestic violence was not a criminal offense until the mid-1990s. Until then, it was considered a family issue. Once domestic violence cases got more attention, restraining orders became more common. Even though violating restraining orders can have serious consequences, research has found repeat offenses of harrassment or violence often occur.
Victims fear that if they place an order, the abuse is going to get worse and they would be in even more danger. The result of this is that victims usually experience years of abuse before finally petitioning for an order. Another factor that typically limits the victim's ability to file is the cost. Each state charges a different fee, usually from $100 to $400, and it can be difficult for many victims to come up with the funds, although emergency protective orders are usually free. Consequences for violating restraining orders vary by individual case; however, research suggests that harsher punishments need to be placed on violators to ensure restraining orders serve their purpose.
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Prompts About Restraining Orders:
Essay Prompt 1:
Write an essay of at least one to two paragraphs that explains what a restraining order is and describes the link between restraining orders and domestic violence. Your essay should also explain what an emergency protective order is and how it differs from a restraining order.
Example: An emergency protective order is only effective for the short term (sometimes only a week), whereas a restraining order can be put in place for longer periods of time.
Essay Prompt 2:
In approximately three to four paragraphs, write an essay that describes the disadvantages of restraining orders.
Example: Restraining orders can sometimes give victims a false sense of security.
Pretend that you are working for a victims' advocacy agency. Create a PowerPoint presentation that details how a restraining order can be filed and what the victim's responsibilities are regarding the restraining order.
Example: It is the victim's responsibility to alert law enforcement any time the other party has violated the restraining order.
Graphic Organizer Prompt:
Create a chart, poster, or some other type of graphic organizer that details the consequences of violating a restraining order. Make sure that your graphic organizer takes into account what the latest research indicates about trends in the violation of restraining orders.
Example: Judges can place violators of restraining orders in jail with high bail because research demonstrates that they are likely to violate the restraining order repeatedly.
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