Do Domestic Violence Restraining Orders Really Work?

When passed by Congress in 1994, the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) offered hope to women who were current and future victims of sexual assault, dating violence, domestic violence, and stalking, in the form of federal programs, they give money to advocacy groups and support law enforcement. The House version passed this May and the Senate is now in discussions over its version of the bill’s renewal.

The sexual, physical and emotional assaults and terrorizing of women is something that all legislators say they are strongly against. Like being tough on crime, strong on defense, and supporting most highway and bridge repair programs, all legislators like to say the right things. Getting things done, in terms of accelerating the glacial movement of this important bill through committee, is another matter entirely. For domestic violence advocates, law enforcement, and those dedicated to the safety and protective rights of all women in this country, the short answer is: stay tuned.

When signed by President Clinton, the VAWA legislation helped close a major loophole for police, who had trouble enforcing civil restraining and restraining orders across state lines. If the bad guy in a woman’s life got a protection order in Texas and she moved to Iowa to get away from him, the police in the city or county in the Iowa town where he showed up wouldn’t always be able to arrest him unless he broke one of your state laws. (The sad, tried and tested reality of domestic violence or stalking is that most victims are women and most suspects are men. There are always exceptions, of course, including same-sex domestic violence, but rarely Sometimes it is women who perpetrate violence or stalking, so arrest statistics support the male pronoun as the offender).

Under VAWA, the concept of Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) enforcement was given state-to-state reciprocity, meaning that a valid order filed and served in Ohio was enforceable in Maine and anywhere else. elsewhere nationwide. Once local police officers arrived on the scene and verified that the warrant was in effect, they could lock up the suspect for crossing state lines to harass, intimidate, threaten, stalk, or harm the victim.

But how effective are restraining orders in these highly emotional and ever-volatile situations, where an official-looking piece of paper is supposed to serve as a figurative bulletproof shield? Studies on the effectiveness of ORTs vary widely, with one suggesting that they are effective in keeping victims safe about 85 percent of the time, while another report suggests a less optimistic success rate of 15 percent. So let’s split the difference and say restraining orders work half the time and half the time they don’t. Why or why not?

Five things make the success of a stalking or domestic violence TRO problematic. (And here we can define “success” as either the suspect never makes contact with the victim, or is successfully arrested and prosecuted, both of which are not always guaranteed, without having an opportunity to harm the victim.)

Problem one: Restraining orders work great for good rule-followers in general and those who fear the consequences of violating the order in particular. Unfortunately, most domestic violence suspects have already shown that they are not good rule-followers and do not always fear the police, arrest, jail, prison, or even death by their own hands or through from the police. Someone who says, “If I can’t have you, no one else will,” and means it, is often not deterred by the papers, even when handed over the screen of a patrol car or through the bars of the police station. jail. . (One of the most obvious signs that the guy will not follow the limitations of this restraining order is when we find out that he failed to comply with the TRO in his previous relationship.)

Problem Two: The victim consistently fails to report TRO violations, thus sending mixed messages to the police and the bad guy. DV advocates and police tell victims to report every TRO violation, including phone calls, text messages, emails, trips home or to the office, and face-to-face encounters with the suspect. Some victims are compliant about it; some are not. If the victim isn’t vigilant, the police may not be either, especially when she discovers that the suspect tricked, cajoled, or coerced the victim into meeting for coffee and she went. Each violation should require a police response, a police report and, if possible, a police arrest.

Problem Three: Police do not always consistently enforce the order, especially with victims who remain in the territory of Problem Two. Writing TRO violation reports for a suspect who is long gone upon his arrival is not a high priority for most patrol officers. While they may understand the dynamics of domestic violence and stalking and the need for restraining orders, they do not fear the same things that victims fear. They’re used to being surrounded by threats and violence, so unless the bad guy is on the scene, they won’t always respond with lights and sirens for a minor crime, not committed in their presence. (When I teach patrol theory to officers, I remind them that the bad guy may be driving in your direction when they approach or hiding nearby and waiting for them to take a report and drive off. With their eyes wide open, they can often catch him on In some cities, including my own, police can usually arrest a TRO violator up to 48 hours after taking the report, one of the rare exceptions to the “outdated misdemeanor” rule).

Problem Four: Sometimes the presence of a TRO makes what was an inactive situation instantly worse. As Hollywood security expert Gavin de Becker says in his bestseller The Gift of Fear, “Sometimes when we confront each other, we rage.” This means that if the subject has not bothered the victim prior to this point, having them served in court with a civil restraining order may suddenly give them a reason to become a never-ending irritant to the victim. “Are you giving me a restraining order? I’ll give you a reason to give me a restraining order!” and then the games begin.

Issue Five: Do police, domestic violence advocates and the victim use a TRO as the main appeasement tool/cloak of security, when there is a better plan? Sometimes it makes a sense of safety for the victim to walk away. When I was a dv investigator, we often told victims to get a TRO, as part of our regular due diligence attempts and giving them all their options. In hindsight, it often made the situation worse and created a false sense of security that once the warrant was served, the police were now somehow waiting around the corner to help.

Some domestic violence victims participate in their own murders by failing to read the warning signs, not trusting their intuition, and relying too heavily on the ever-failing criminal justice system for help. The life they have to protect is their own. The new and updated VAWA law will help us all in the battle to keep women safe from predators that is still far from won.

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