Protective orders can be misused

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By Don Whitehead

Protective orders are a valuable tool that victims of domestic violence can use to protect themselves from their abusers.

In granting Emergency Protective Orders and Domestic Violence Orders, the court may require the abuser to refrain from any contact with his or her victim and grant other remedies as necessary. This is a civil and not a criminal process.

Protective orders are designed to protect someone against physical violence, stalking or the threat of physical violence. A protective order may be the only thing that keeps a victim safe from harm.

Some individuals file for protective orders when there has been no violence or threat of violence. Being angry, upset, sad, lonely or vengeful is not enough of a reason to seek a protective order. Seeking the custody of children or trying to retrieve property lost to a relationship is also not a legitimate reason to file for a protective order.

This misuse of the process wastes the time of the police and the court system and detracts from other victims who really do need protection.

Sometimes an alleged victim will tell one story on the written petition for the protective order and then recant that story in court. She may change her story because she has been threatened by her abuser if she does tell the truth in court. (In spite of being ordered to stay away from her, the abuser will sometimes contact her or have his friends or relatives make contacts on his behalf.)

If she has experienced his attacks in the past, she may be wary of telling the truth in court. He may threaten her physically or threaten to take her children if she continues to seek protection.

He may also persuade her to change her story by promising to be good to her, to never do it again, to get counseling or to go to church. "I love you" and "I'm sorry" come out of his mouth as quickly as during the first days of the relationship. He may also buy or promise to buy presents for her or she may change her story because she has gotten over being mad and wants to forget the whole thing.

Some abusers have learned to "game the system" and will seek a protective order against the victim. The process sometimes becomes a race to the courthouse to see who can file first. He may allege injuries or abuse that never did occur or show scratch marks that he claims were made by the victim. Or he may file as payback after she has filed.

At the court hearing, it is left to the judge to sort out the competing claims and decide who really needs the protection of the court.

If you are honestly afraid of your partner, you may seek the protection offered by the legal system. The first step is to file for an Emergency Protective Order at the sheriff's office, the circuit clerk's office or at an abuse shelter. You will be asked to write down the exact violence that was done to you by the abuser.

The EPO petition then goes to a judge who grants or rejects it based on the written testimony. If an EPO is granted, the police will serve it on the abuser, and both the abuser and victim will be given a court date within 14 days.

In court, a judge listens to both sides and decides whether to grant a Domestic Violence Order (which can last for up to three years). The order may include temporary custody, child support and restrictions on contact between the two parties.

When properly used, protective orders save lives.

If you need help because of domestic violence, call Bethany House Abuse Shelter at (606) 679-8852 or (800) 755-2017.