Civil Protection Orders and Risk of Subsequent Police-Reported Violence

Authors: Victoria L. Holt, Mary A. Kernic, Thomas Lumley, Marsha E. Wolf, and Frederick P. Rivara

Published: Journal of the American Medical Association, V. 288 (5), August 7, 2002, 589-594.

What is the scope of this study?
This research analyzes the data, and presents evidence regarding protection order effectiveness in Seattle, WA.

What is a civil order of protection and how is it obtained?
A civil order of protection is a legally binding court order. Its intent is to compel an individual, who has committed a violent act, to refrain from further acts of violence against the person who has been granted the order. A victim of domestic violence obtains a protection order by completing an application wherein he/she describes the violence from which relief is sought and identifies the perpetrator. The order is granted to a victim by a judge or commissioner. A temporary protection order, if granted, covers a 2-week time period after which a court hearing determines if the petitioner will be awarded a "permanent" protection order (i.e., lasts a year or longer). The perpetrator is informed of the victim's complaint, the behaviors prohibited by the protection order, and when the court will hear arguments for a permanent order of protection.

How was this study conducted?
The authors of this study looked at all reports to the Seattle, WA, Police Department from August 1998 through December 1999 that were made by women about intimate partner violence. This resulted in a large sample size (N = 2,691).

Researchers reviewed these police reports, noting the first and any subsequent reports of intimate partner violence by the same perpetrator against the same victim. The researchers also looked at whether and/or when a subject applied for a temporary and/or a permanent order of protection against the perpetrator. Seattle's King County Court provided information regarding protection order status.

Researchers defined three conditions during which the protection order effectiveness was evaluated:
  1. Time during which a subject had no protection order
  2. Time during which a subject had a temporary protection order (duration = 2 weeks after filing for the order, if granted by a judge)
  3. Time during which a subject had a permanent protection order (duration = 1 year after filing and the order is granted by a judge)
This study provides evidence that protection orders can help protect women from violence by intimate partners. Several factors affected the use and effectiveness of this legal remedy.
  1. Alcohol or drug use by either victim or abuser during the first incident of intimate partner violence reported to police predicted that victims would not seek protection orders.
  2. Marriage at any point to the abuser was associated with women seeking protection orders. On the other hand, a woman who had not married but had lived with the abusive intimate partner was less likely to seek a protection order.
  3. Severity of violence seemed to discourage a woman from seeking a protection order. Women who were assaulted or injured during the incident precipitating the first police report were less likely to seek a protection order.
  4. Temporary protection orders were associated with an increased risk (i.e., four times greater risk) for psychological abuse, particularly harassment. And, women with such orders experienced significantly more psychological abuse than women without temporary protection orders. However, physical abuse did not increase for women with temporary protection orders.
  5. Permanent protection orders were associated with an 80% reduction in reports of physical violence during the 12 months after the victim made a first report of intimate partner violence to the police.
  6. Fatalities did not correlate with protection order status. Five women were murdered during the study, and there was no difference in protection order status between the murder victims.
  7. Rates of reported recurrence of intimate partner violence were significantly lower in the population studied than in other studies using "convenience" samples (i.e., subjects living in a battered women's shelter).
In this study civil protection orders appeared to be effective remedies for intimate partner violence for most women. However, the study raises some questions. It is unknown if rates of reporting of recurrent intimate partner violence reflected actual rates of recurrence of violence, or if the reporting of continued violence differed according to protection order status. This study's methodology precluded gathering such information; researchers had no direct contact with victims.

The results and questions raised by this study suggest directions for future research. The authors of this study suggest that researchers explore factors that influence a woman's initiative and ability to use protection orders. These factors should include personality characteristics of victims as well as other, environmental elements that affect a woman's resolve to seek help to stop the violence.

Reviewed by Priscilla Schulz, LCSW
November 11, 2002
Center for Trauma Recovery
University of Missouri - St. Louis
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