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Gaps in protection from abuse orders

Pennsylvania's temporary order for protection from abuse, obtained from a judge, provides some protections to spouses from abuse. Despite these orders, victims may choose to face the risk of returning to these relationships or face other peril.

Even with the entry of a PFA order, victims still face the risk of violence and threats. Because a PFA is a civil order, criminal penalties are inapplicable until an abuser violates an order. If that occurs, then they may be punished for criminal contempt. However, abusers may still return home and commit harm despite their violation of the order.

Pennsylvania law provides for the removal of a person who has been convicted of domestic violence from the victim's home. Weapons may be taken away even before the temporary period before the hearing. States where guns are removed have a 22-percent decrease in cases of intimate partner homicides.

However, a Pennsylvania PFA order contains no direction on sending the names of abusers to a national database accessible to legitimate gun merchants. There are insufficient methods to determine whether an abusive spouse crossed state lines to buy a firearm. The federal government does not notify states if a PFA or other action was filed.

Precautions are needed if a victim decides to return to an abusive relationship even after these orders were sought. First, they should never enter a fight in an area of their residence where there are knives or where there is no easy exist, such as a basement or bathroom. A set of car keys should be outside where they can be accessed quickly. If possible, a spouse should inform their neighbor about the situation and use their home as a safe place to escape and contact the police, if necessary.

Staying in an abusive relationship for the children's benefit may be unsafe and unwise. Children often learn behavior, even wrongful conduct, from their parents. Parents should not want their children condoning violence or other abuse as part of a relationship, but they may send that message if they stay in an abusive relationship themselves.

Leaving an abusive relationship can be a frightening thing to do. An attorney can help victims of domestic abuse seek a protective order and learn about the best methods to protect themselves and their families. In the end, knowledge is power. Those who know how to legally protect themselves may stand a better chance of escaping the cycle of abuse and obtaining the life they deserve.

Source: The Legal Intelligencer, "Understanding Pa.'s PFA and how we must work to protect our clients," Lynee Z. Gold-Bikin, Esquire, Jan. 11, 2018

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