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The Partner Abuse State of Knowledge Project
Manuscripts and Online Data Base
Overview of Findings by the Authors

#13 Effectiveness, Victim Safety, Characteristics and Enforcement of Protective Orders

Brenda Russell
73 pages.
Full manuscript available in Partner Abuse Vol.3, Issue no.4 (2013), pp. 531-552.

To provide an overview of the extant literature on the effectiveness of Protective Orders (POs)s, an examination of POs led to the identification of at least four research themes  including: (1) victim safety and effectiveness (often measured by PO violations and re-victimization); (2) perceptions of victim satisfaction, safety, and psychological well-being as a function of the issuance of a PO; (3) predictors and characteristics of victims, perpetrators, and the granting of POs; and (4) the enforcement of POs. For inclusion in this review, the study had to be published after 1990 and peer reviewed. The review of PO literature revealed 370 articles meeting the aforementioned criteria. Of those articles, 43 met the inclusion criteria for one of the four themes—5 of the articles were literature reviews, and 39 were empirical research studies. Studies meeting the criteria of one or more of the themes above can be found in the tables.

It is debatable how one defines PO ‘effectiveness’. For the purpose of this study, ‘effectiveness’ refers to violations of POs and/or re-victimization. Also, subsequent sub-topics associated with POs ‘effectiveness’ have been separately tabulated in order to summarize the studies. Research on victim safety and effectiveness implies that 44-70% of POs are violated. Approximately 40% of women obtaining permanent POs (Kaci, 1994) are less likely to report physical violence to police (Holt et al., 2002). Almost 60% of women reported they were stalked when they had a PO (Logan & Cole, 2007 Three studies found POs reduced incidents of violence, and others stated POs led to an 80% reduction in police reported physical violence. Although research evidence of PO effectiveness is mixed, greater evidence suggests POs are violated, and victims are re-victimized after POs are issued.

Studies on perceptions of victim safety, satisfaction, and psychological well-being show victim psychological well-being and safety appear to increase when POs are issued. Research on predictors and characteristics of victims and perpetrators and the granting of POs is less common. Studies inspecting different issues associated with victims and/or perpetrators of abuse, have found that while married and unmarried victims do not differ in abuse suffered, married victims are less likely to seek final orders. For instance, mothers who take out POs are more likely to be re-victimized, experiencing greater aggression and poorer health. One study (Mele, Roberts, & Wolfer, 2011)examined characteristics of men issued POs and found most men reported physical abuse as the reason they requested the PO and those who followed through with a final PO experienced more types of abuse and sought custody of their child. Less evidence exists on offender characteristics. The best evidence predictor of a PO violation is previous PO violations and the severity of criminal charges imposed.  Clearly, from the four studies provided on PO issuance, females are more likely to be granted POs than males. Of the few studies on PO enforcement, results showed no gender differences in arrest of males versus females who violated POs, nor were there gender differences in recidivism. However, women were more likely sent to anger management, while men were more likely sent to batterer intervention programs.

Implications for public policy include determining acceptable rates of PO violation and re-victimization considered effective. Evidently, communities, the criminal justice system, and scholars need to deem PO violation rates and re-victimization as unacceptable, or acceptable. Moreover, a cost analysis of POs would assist in understanding effectiveness. Suggested future research might include: (1) the use of additional control groups; (2) a cost analysis of PO policies; (3) assessment of PO violations as they relate to arrest and sentencing decisions; (4) investigation of male victims, same-sex couples’ experience with the PO process, and female offenders who obtain POs; and (5) examination of potential differences among various types of POs.


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