Guest Column by Rita Anita Linger, M.A.
Executive Director, North Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence
With the downturn of the economy, incidences of violence are rising – including incidences of domestic violence. While the current economic situation does not create domestic violence, it can exacerbate it.
As the number of violent crimes rises, the subject of orders of protection for victims of domestic violence and whether or not victims should seek one is a topic that has been thrust into the limelight lately both on a state and national level. Should a woman seek an order of protection when she has been abused? Is it the best course of action to take? Or should she not pursue an order and just call the police as needed?
An order of protection, also known as a restraining order, is a court order that is designed to stop violent and/or harassing behavior and to protect you and your children from an abuser. An order of protection can also force an abuser to stay away from you and your children and to have no communication with you or anyone who lives with you if they are included in the order.
Women decide for or against seeking an order of protection for a variety of reasons. Some of the most common reasons women choose to pursue an order of protection are because they believe they will be safer with one in place, and they have the support they need (i.e. family, friends, domestic violence program advocate, law enforcement, judicial system, etc.). Because the process of securing an order of protection is often so daunting, many women choose not to pursue one even though they feel they are in danger and could benefit from one. They may also choose not to pursue one because they believe they don’t have the level of personal support they need, or they have seen judges within their community not grant orders to women who appear to really need them, or law enforcement not take the order seriously.
Oftentimes a woman’s frame of reference will be the determining factor as to whether she decides an order of protection is worth the journey she will need to take to get one. It is important to understand that victims are watching the way in which their police departments, judicial system, and other helping agencies handle other victims’ requests for orders of protection. If the process is dehumanizing, humiliating, or results in an order that is not speedily enforced by law enforcement or the judicial system—victims will decide against pursuing an order even if they believe it would be the right thing to do. Another factor is whether a woman believes she is in greater danger of her abuser if she pursues an order of protection. If a woman believes she would increase her chances of harm if she pursued an order, whoever is working with that victim must listen to her reasoning.
What is known is that when a woman chooses to leave a violent relationship, her risk of being harmed or murdered increases. Communities and domestic violence programs who insist a woman get an order of protection must understand a woman’s reluctance to do so, the fear she has endured and her frame of reference that may be holding her back. According to recent studies, what is also known is that when a woman does choose to pursue an order of protection, a permanent order is more effective than a temporary order. In other words, if a woman chooses to pursue an order, the orders that are given for a longer period of time seem to protect the victim more effectively than an order that is given for a few months. This should be a consideration for the courts that administer the orders.
Remember before we decide to take a position on whether a victim should file for an order of protection, please consider her frame of reference. Ask her if she has the support she needs and explore what her experience has been watching other victims seek orders. What in her opinion are the pros and cons of seeking an order of protection within her community. Ultimately, it is her frame of reference—her experiences, what she has seen and what she has heard with regard to the gatekeepers to her safety, which will either hold her back or create feelings of confidence for her to move forward with seeking an order.
Let us do what we can to create a positive frame of reference so that victims can make informed choices without fear that will ensure their safety and well-being.
Note: Ms. Linger is a domestic violence survivor.
© 2009, North Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence, reprinted with permission.
All Rights Reserved.
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