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Home / Articles / Protection Orders / Will I Be More or Less Safe if I File for A Restraining Order?

Will I Be More or Less Safe if I File for A Restraining Order?

Domestic violence survivors wonder if filing a personal protection order will make the abuse worse

Will I Be More or Less Safe if I File for A Restraining Order?

This story was originally published in 2016. It was updated in 2024.

Domestic violence survivors seek “personal protection orders,” “protection orders,” or “temporary restraining orders,” as they are called in some jurisdictions, to help safeguard themselves and their children from abusive partners and ex-partners. Once in place, protection orders are intended to limit contact between the abuser and the survivor. Protection orders make certain actions by the abuser illegal. Ideally, the abuser would refrain from violating the order, giving the target—and involved children—a greater sense of peace and safety.

A protective order also shows an abuser that the victim is serious about getting out and getting help.

Will an Abuser Retaliate?

Many survivors worry that seeking a protection order will enrage an abuser and lead to increased abuse. While there are countless tragic examples of survivors being assaulted or killed while a protection order is in place, it is not clear that the protective order in any way contributed to the abuse. Most likely, it was not the protective order that increased the violence. Rather, either the victim sought the protective order because the violence was escalating, or the abuser became more violent upon seeing the victim break free.

“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.”

One survivor noted that skilled offenders can manage to get around and even violate the order in ways that do not warrant police intervention. She says her now-ex-husband retaliated financially, spread rumors about her, made false allegations of child abuse against her and tried to turn their child against her after she secured a protective order. Notably, she does not believe these cruel actions were a result of taking out the protective order, but rather were a result of separating from him. He abused her during the marriage while they lived together. And once she separated from him and obtained a protection order, he abused her in new ways.

Another survivor I interviewed described the protective order as an important step in affirming her experience. She said that for years, her husband had accused, blamed and gaslighted her for everything that had happened, making her out to be the real aggressor and himself to be the victim. When a domestic violence advocate and then a judge affirmed that she was being victimized, she was able to take back control of her life.

Protective Orders —A Path for Legal Recourse

Research explores how often protective orders are or are not violated. Study results vary widely. A National Institutes of Justice study found that about half of orders are violated in some way. Advocates encourage survivors to report every single violation, even ones that may seem “harmless,” such as a text saying “I still love you” or a rose left at their door. Even these “small” actions are communications from abusers that they are not respecting survivors’ boundaries or court orders. Sometimes the total accumulation of violations will be enough for police or the courts to take action even if the individual acts may seem insignificant.

Police officers and departments vary in how willing they are to act to enforce violations of protective orders. One survivor mentioned that protective orders “open a path for legal recourse, but do not stop a violent offender committed to causing harm.” Before she had the protective order, the police said they could not do anything when her husband hung around outside the home where she lived. Once the order was in place, the abuser became “more creative in his harassment,” but no longer showed up at the home. If he showed up at the home, he could be arrested.

What If Police Don’t Enforce a Protection Order?

Protection orders are far more effective if law enforcement strictly enforce them. That may seem obvious, but unfortunately, too many survivors have shared with that they’ve found it challenging to get police to respond to an order of protection violation. 

“If I could say there’s one issue that gets law enforcement sued more than any other issue in the country, it’s failing to properly enforce a protection order,” says former police officer Mark Wynn, who now trains law enforcement in the U.S. and internationally on how to respond to domestic violence.

His advice: Contact the police every time the order is violated. “If you don’t get a proper response, reach out to advocates at your local domestic violence organization. Often, an advocate can speak for you to the police or prosecuting attorney to help you figure out what’s going on.” 

For more information, read “Ask Amanda: How Can I Get Police to Take Action?

To Get a Protection Order, or Not?

Sergeant Jen Bartak of the Deerfield, Massachusetts Police Department considers protective orders extremely helpful, but cautions that they are not magic wands. “In addition to the emergency restraining order, I also talk to DV victims about other ways to stay safe, such as having a family member or friend stay with them, keeping aware of their surroundings and noticing if something is suspicious in the area—such as a car parked down the street—keeping their phone on them at all times and having the ability to call 911 if an interaction with the abuser occurs. In most DV cases, the restraining order gives police a tool to get the abuser to vacate the home and give the victim space. The protective order also shows child protective services or child welfare that the victim is taking steps to keep themselves and their children safe, in cases where they are involved.” 

The factors that place victim of domestic violence at greatest risk for homicide during a relationship are the same as those that place a victim at greatest risk after separation, including:

  • The abusers’ access to firearms
  • Abuser’s threats of suicide and/or to kill the victim or harm the children
  • Abuser’s lack of protective factors (such as social support, steady employment, and a positive reputation in the community)
  • A recent separation
  • Physically forced sex
  • A history of strangulation
  • A history of stalking
  • The abuser’s abuse of alcohol and/or use of illegal drugs
  • Coercive control
  • Constant or violent jealousy
  • That a victim believes the abuser is capable of killing them

Contact your local domestic violence agency or Family Justice Center to assess risk and safety factors and to develop an individualized safety plan. If you do seek a protective order, you will want to have as much evidence as possible when you go into court. Emergency, temporary, or permanent protective orders are not hard to obtain but turning that temporary order into a longer-term order requires more evidence and usually the help of a lawyer and/or advocate. Your family court case (involving divorce or child custody) may be prejudiced if you seek a protective order and it is denied. Survivors suggest that you check your burden of proof with an advocate, an attorney, and/or other survivors who have a protective order in place.

One survivor cautions: “When you are awarded your protective order, never dismiss the order. You can get your protection order modified if you ever want to permit more contact but if you dismiss the order you may be unable to secure a second order later on.” She further reminds victims that they can hide their address, protect their place of work and list pets, friends, family members, and property as protected parties to the order at the time the order is entered. 

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. Contact your local domestic violence agency or Family Justice Center to help you make a safety plan. And read “When It’s Time to Go.”

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