Court orders protecting battered women do prevent violence by their partners, according to an analysis of abuse incidents reported to the Seattle police in 1998 and 1999.
Slightly more than 10% of the 2,700 reports led to a temporary (two-week) protection order, which required the man to stay away from the victim's home or avoid all contact with her on penalty of civil or criminal contempt charges. About 60% of the women with a temporary order received a permanent (one-year) protection order.
In all three groups — no order, temporary order, and permanent order — the women were the same age and had the same history of abuse, on average. Women who received no protection order after reporting an incident were much more likely to have been using alcohol or drugs at the time of the attack, as were their abusers. They were also less likely to be married to, but more likely to be living with, the abuser.
After controlling for all these factors, women with permanent court orders were 80% less likely to be physically or psychologically abused than those who received no protective order. Women who received only temporary orders were more likely to be stalked, threatened, harassed, or verbally attacked (although not assaulted) than those with no court orders. They might have been particularly vulnerable to harassment after initiating legal proceedings because they were holding the man responsible and shaming him by making his behavior public.
However, according to crime victim surveys, only about 50% of serious abuse incidents ever find their way into police files. To obtain information not in police records, the researchers interviewed (by mail or telephone) women who did and did not receive a court order after reporting abuse. More than 350 women completed three interviews. The first took place six weeks after the reported incident, the second five months later, and the third nine months later.
The researchers found that during the first five months neither temporary nor permanent protective orders had a significant effect on threats and abuse. But after nine months, women with permanent court orders were less likely to have been contacted by the abuser and less likely to have been threatened with a weapon, injured, or sexually abused. Women who received only temporary protective orders did not have statistically lower rates of abuse.
July 2003 Update