Do protection orders really protect? The answer isn’t clear
A group of state lawmakers this month introduced legislation designed to avert domestic-violence deaths by disarming Ohioans who are served with temporary protection orders.
House Bill 160 -- introduced by Rep. Bob Hagan and co-sponsored by Reps. Nickie Antonio, Mike Foley, Teresa Fedor and Denise Driehaus -- would require individuals served with domestic-violence temporary protection orders to temporarily surrender their firearms to local law enforcement within 24 hours or to sell their firearms to a licensed dealer.
"The most dangerous moment for domestic violence victims is when protection orders are first issued," Hagan said. "By temporarily separating the abuser from their firearm, we can work to prevent unnecessary and tragic homicides in the future."
The chairman of the Buckeye Firearms Association, Jim Irvine, said he backs Hagan's mission to quell domestic violence, but called HB 160 a "failed idea" that would not solve the problem.
"A gun is the tool the problem uses," Irvine said. "But there are knives, bats, clubs that are also tools. Are you going to take those away too?
"The idea that a protection order protects someone from another is a myth. It's like putting a 'no guns' sign on your building and thinking bad guys cannot get inside."
Is it a myth that protection orders work? PolitiFact Ohio was interested. We found several studies that suggest protection orders can be effective in deterring further violence, but we also found there are pitfalls in trying to prove whether they provide actual protection. So we’re reporting our findings here, but not making a ruling on the Truth-O-Meter.
We started our research by asking Irvine for more information.
"There is already a law in place that prohibits all of us from murdering any of the others of us," he answered. "If that does not work, it's crazy to think a judge’s words or a piece of paper will work any better.
"Bottom line -- protection orders don't work. We know that. We need to try something different."
Irvine said he had no studies or statistics "that officially lay out the odds of being murdered with a protective order," but he provided several stories with multiple examples of women being killed by men who had been served with protection orders.
Said one, from Las Vegas: "Local officials say many of the most severe cases of domestic violence involve victims who had protective orders."
It continued: "Domestic violence experts say restraining orders aren't protective shields … Studies show as many as two-thirds of protection orders are obeyed, but no one can predict which cases will erupt into actual homicides."
A story from Denver quotes a prosecutor saying that a restraining order "is not going to stop bullets," and is "almost asking for trouble" without a "safety plan."
It also quotes a judge, who trains others on issues of domestic and family violence, saying that protective-order cases are "a judge's worst nightmare" -- but adding that "high-profile cases can not and should not be blamed on restraining orders. 'Restraining orders, appropriately entered and enforced, definitely do more good than harm,' (the judge) said. 'More people have been saved by them than harmed by them.'''
An analysis by Slate.com's fact-checking "Explainer," prompted by a shooting in Wisconsin, specifically cites a study in Washington state and concludes that protective orders "don't seem to work in the short term," because "in the first few months psychological abuse is actually more common among those who obtain legal protection than those who do not.
"Over the long term, however, protective orders appear to work very well," decreasing incidence of domestic abuse by 80 percent over the year following initial abuse, Slate found.
We looked further. A 2009 study for the U.S. Justice Department asked, "Do protective orders work?"
Its answer was that research "has not been able to answer this question definitively, mainly because it is not ethically permissible to randomly grant or deny protective orders to compare results. Furthermore, these orders may 'work' at different levels."
But in terms of their effectiveness in deterring repeat abuse, "before and after studies suggest that protective orders may deter certain abusers," the report said. "Victims should be encouraged to take out protective orders and retain them but should also be advised that the orders do not deter all abusers and may be more effective when accompanied by criminal prosecution of the abuser."
A study by the University of New Hampshire's Carsey Institute, which conducts policy research on family and civic issues, found that "civil protective orders are effective in reducing partner violence for many women. For half the women in the sample, a protective order stopped the violence. For the other half the orders significantly reduced violence and abuse."
"The results show clearly that civil protective orders are an effective intervention in addressing partner violence."
The National Center for State Courts examined three jurisdictions and found "in the vast majority of cases, civil protection orders deter repeated incidents of physical and psychological abuse."
An analysis of civil protective orders in Kentucky said that the orders "provide justice for some, but for others they are just a piece of paper." For most women, "protective orders reduce violence," the analysis found.
In Wisconsin, the state bar association said that "restraining orders do not guarantee protection," but "research suggests that restraining orders are between 40 and 80 percent effective in deterring future incidents of abuse in the year after obtaining the order." The violations "range from relatively minor incidents such as unwanted phone calls or visits, to more severe attacks of physical or sexual abuse."
Similar figures were reported in a guide to protection orders from the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges.
Ohio does not keep statistics on protection orders, said Nancy Neylon, executive director of the Ohio Domestic Violence Network.
"I’ve personally been asking for this for more than 20 years," she said.
But she said experience has shown that the time of separation or leaving in domestic violence situations "is an extremely dangerous time." The ODVN warns that it is a time when "risk for serious injury and deaths are escalated for the victim, children, other family members, bystanders, co-workers, friends, companions, partners, and the batterer. Leaving, calling law enforcement, emergency shelter and protection orders may or may not make a victim safer."