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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Intimated and Reluctant

Park said that most victims applying for protection orders do not have a lawyer with them, which can make going to court all the more intimidating. Those without U.S. citizenship, Park said, may be particularly reluctant to seek protection.

"A lot of immigrants will not want to seek out court assistance," Park said, "because they're afraid that a court is an unsafe place for them if they're undocumented."

Another factor frightening victims from seeking protection orders is housing discrimination.

Park said that landlords sometimes use whether someone has had a protection order as a criterion to screen applicants. She added that many towns, especially in the Midwest, are passing ordinances that evict tenants if they call police to their home more than three times in a year; many of these ordinances, Park said, do not take into account whether the calls were deemed to be justified or not.

"It's being seen as a way to help with town budgets on police services," Park said, "but we certainly think it's problematic in this context."

Laws governing protection orders vary from state to state. For instance, according to the American Bar Association Commission on Domestic Violence, several states do not grant protection orders for adult "dating violence." Most states do grant such orders, but in some instances there are significant caveats; in Montana, for example, the dating partners must be of the opposite sex.

The length of final protection orders in many states is one year or less. In many states, judges have considerable discretion regarding the length of the order.

"Despite three decades of research on various aspects of protective orders," the Kentucky report noted, "there is still no comprehensive picture of how they are implemented in various jurisdictions across the country or their effectiveness in providing increased safety for partner violence victims."

After receiving a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism in 2006, Tony Richards served for three years as the editor in chief of the Highbridge Horizon, a publication covering a section of the South Bronx. He has written about a broad range of topics, including arts and culture, education, housing and police brutality and has a particular interest in issues of human rights and social justice.

For more information:

State-by-state information on obtaining protective orders,

National Coalition Against Domestic Violence

The Kentucky Civil Protective Order Study: A Rural and Urban Multiple Perspective Study of Protective Order Violation Consequences, Responses, and Costs

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