Protective Orders and Domestic
Risk Factors for Re-Abuse
Priscilla Schulz, LCSW
from an article of the same title by:
Matthew J. Carlson, Susan D. Harris, and George W. Holden
Journal of Family Violence,
V. 14 (2), 205-226, 1999
What is a protective order?
Also called a restraining order, protective orders (PO) are civil, legal
interventions in domestic violence to protect victims from further abuse.
Protective orders protect victims by prohibiting the abusive partner from
committing acts of violence, threatening, harassing, or stalking family
members. Violation of a PO results in criminal penalties such as fines,
imprisonment or both. Victims seek
temporary or permanent protective orders. Victims obtain the
former without the offender being present; temporary orders last about
30 days or until a court date is set and a permanent order is obtained.
Permanent orders require both victim and offender to appear in court,
and typically last 12 months. Limitations in traditional legal procedures
for criminally prosecuting abusive partners gave rise to the creation
and use of protective orders.What is the purpose of this study?
In the nearly 25 years since protective orders have been available as
a legal remedy for domestic violence, only five studies have examined
their effectiveness in preventing re-abuse. Even though these studies
found that in most cases abusive partners refrained from violating protective
orders, evidence indicated that factors other than the protective order
itself may have influenced perpetrators to stop abusing their partners.
Short duration of time between receipt of a PO and inquiries about re-abuse
may also have inflated protective orders' apparent effectiveness in some
studies. Researchers in the present study address these issues:
looked at a woman's relative risk of physical re-abuse over a relatively
long period of time (two-years) after receiving a protective order.
How was the study conducted?
three categories of variables that may influence protective order effectiveness:
- socioeconomic status (i.e., age, race, and income)
- relationship investment of perpetrators (as measured by marital
status, how long the couple had been together, and whether or not
they had children)
- characteristics of legal interventions (i.e., history of prior arrests
of perpetrators for domestic disturbances, and whether victims sought
temporary or permanent protective orders)
The research sample consisted of 210 protective order cases filed in January,
August and October of 1990, 1991 and 1992 in Travis County Courthouse, Texas.
These cases represented disputes between heterosexual, intimate partners
where the woman was the victim. All 210 cases had Travis County sheriff's
office or Austin police department records from two years before and two
years after filing of the PO. Statistical analyses explored protective order
effectiveness from different perspectives to account for the influence of
variables.What are the study's main findings?
Filing for a protective order resulted in a significant (66%) decline in
abuse in the cases examined by this study. In the 23% of cases where violence
continued after the PO, however, there was no change in the rate of violence,
suggesting that issuing the PO did not increase abuse.
Researchers found significant differences between protective order cases
when the effects of different variables were considered:
Relationship Investment (children here means biological children of the
woman and her abuser)
- Women with the lowest family income (i.e., under $18K per year) had
significantly less relief from abuse after a PO than other women (53%
decline in re-abuse compared to 71% decline, respectively). However,
poor women who sought permanent PO's had better success in reducing
- African Americans were significantly more likely to report abuse before
and after obtaining a protective order than White or Hispanic Americans.
- African American women experienced a significantly smaller decline
in violence after the PO (54%) than other racial groups (73% decline
for Whites, 74% for Hispanics), and were ten times more likely to
report re-abuse than White women of comparable socioeconomic status.
who had been together at least 5 years experienced significantly less
violence (85% decrease) after a PO than those who had not been a couple
that long (66% decrease).
Characteristics of Legal Intervention
of children in a relationship significantly affected relief from abuse.
Length of relationship
significantly influenced abusive partners' behavior in cases where the
couple had children.
- Women with children reported less relief from violence after a PO
than those without children (51% decline in violence compared to 73%,
- Women with children were 4 times more likely to report re-abuse
than were women of childless couples.
- Violence was unlikely to re-emerge after a PO in cases of couples
in long-term relationships who also had children.
- Couples with children from short-term relationships were much more
likely to experience violence again after a PO.
history of prior arrests significantly predicted compliance with protective
orders by perpetrators, especially for lower socioeconomic status women.
Men of higher
socioeconomic status were less likely to violate PO's than lower socioeconomic
resulted in significantly greater relief from violence for victims (68%
decrease) than did temporary PO's (52% decrease). This effect was especially
apparent among low socioeconomic status women.
What are the study's implications?
Reviewed by Priscilla Schulz, December 1999
- The presence of children in domestic violence relationships has
a complicated influence on rates of re-abuse after a protective order.
Courts should use great care in handling issues of child custody,
child-exchanges, and non-custodial parent visitation. Supervised child
exchange centers may be called for to minimize contact between parents
in contested, emotionally volatile cases.
- Whereas in this study a history of arrest predicted compliance with
protective orders, other studies about the effects of arrest suggest
otherwise. Caution must be used in considering stepping up arrest
policies in domestic violence cases.