Domestic Violence

N.Y. Gov.'s Protection-Order Probe Spotlights Risks

Monday, April 26, 2010

The protection order at the heart of an investigation of N.Y. Gov. Paterson lifts the lid on widespread difficulties surrounding this key piece of paper. Few victims of domestic violence ever obtain protection orders, an advocacy group finds.

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N.Y. Gov. David A. Paterson on CNN's Larry King Live.(WOMENSENEWS)--A central question in the ongoing investigation of New York Gov. David A. Paterson is whether he pressured Sherr-una Booker to stop pursuing a protection order against his aide David W. Johnson.

While that answer is not yet known, safety advocates do know a lot about the ways those seeking protection orders can be stymied.

Only about 20 percent of the 1.5 million people victimized by intimate partner violence every year obtain protection orders, according to a 2000 study cited on the Web site of the Denver-based National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Even when victims do obtain these orders, it's no guarantee they'll actually receive protection.

"Approximately one-half of the orders obtained by women against intimate partners who physically assaulted them were violated," the coalition says on its site.

Sandra Park, a New York City-based staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union's Women's Rights Project, says police often do not take domestic violence calls seriously.

"There's still this underlying notion that violence perpetrated within the home or within the marriage is somehow acceptable because it's within the context of the relationship," Park said. "I think that [notion] is certainly rooted in our history of husbands having control over the marriage and the family."

Significant and unrecognized barriers for women in accessing protective orders were identified in a September 2009 study funded by the National Institute of Justice in Washington, D.C. The study interviewed more than 200 women in Kentucky who had obtained protective orders, as well as law enforcement officials and victims' advocates.

The study focused exclusively on Kentucky, but Rob Valente, general counsel for the National Network to End Domestic Violence in Washington, D.C., said it also revealed hurdles that domestic violence victims face in other states.

"When I read the results of the Kentucky study, it seemed remarkably consistent with my experiences," Valente said. "This really gets it. They've really captured what's going on."

Protection Order Restrictions

Kentucky state law does not allow victims to file for protection orders against an abuser whom they were only dating, according to the report. Instead, they must have been married to their abuser, have lived with the abuser or had a child in common with the abuser.

The American Bar Association Commission on Domestic Violence's Web site says Kentucky legislation is "pending to include current or former dating partners."

It is often difficult to serve the abuser with notice of a protection order, without which the order cannot be enforced. Speaking broadly about these challenges, Park, the American Civil Liberties Union staff attorney, cited factors including abusers who dodge service and the cost to victims of getting the notice served.

Courthouse employees and law-enforcement officials may also be uncooperative with petitioners and even try to discourage them from filing for protection orders in the first place, the Kentucky report finds.

In a section of the report focused on victims who have filed and dropped multiple protection orders, the authors find that judges frequently view multiple petitions for a protective order by the same victim as undercutting that person's credibility. Abusers with connections to judges often try to exploit those connections or even offer bribes.

The report also listed "fear of retaliation, no faith in the justice system, lack of resources or support, embarrassment, fear of being blamed or not believed and fear of child protective services involvement" as factors standing in the way of domestic violence victims seeking and obtaining protection orders.

Valente, at the National Network to End Domestic Violence, said many victims find the legal process intimidating and time consuming.

"The follow-up is hard. A lot of people in a very difficult situation will go out and get that protective order and then life overwhelms them," Valente said. "A lot of these folks are really struggling with balancing work, taking care of their kids, taking care of other obligations in their life. And court isn't very flexible."

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