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Quick Look: Police Reports and Protective Orders

police-and-POVictims of domestic violence often feel isolated and aren’t sure where to turn for help. At the Hotline, we’re here to help you find resources and discuss your options if you are in an abusive relationship. For some victims, those options include taking legal action against their abusive partners. Often these actions include filing police reports or obtaining a protection order.

Keep in mind that proceeding with a police report or a protection order is a personal choice, and you should only take these steps if you feel safe doing so. But first it’s important to understand what these documents are and what they can do for you.

Police Reports

A police report is one way to document the abuse and can be the first step toward filing criminal charges. You will be asked detailed questions about the incident and about any witnesses and the perpetrator.

How do I file a police report?
It’s best to file as soon as possible after an incident. Typically, you will need to go to the police station to file a report, or an officer can be dispatched to you. You may be able to file the report by phone by calling your area’s non-emergency number. In some cities you can file the report online. If it’s been a while since the incident happened, you’ll need to bring as much evidence as possible (ex. Journal/log, photos, witnesses, etc.). Provide as much information as you can as clearly as possible, and be sure to express if you feel threatened or have any fears about your partner. Anyone can file a police report, regardless of age (but if you are under 18, the police might contact your parent/guardian).

Why would I file a police report?
It is a way to document abuse and create an official record for the abusive partner, which may be used as evidence in a criminal or civil case.

What happens when I file a police report?
Once you file the report, you become a witness in the state’s case against the perpetrator. The case will be assigned to a detective in your precinct, who will begin an investigation. The detective will likely contact you to ask additional questions and discuss the case. Once the detective has completed the investigation, he/she will submit a report to the County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.

While you do not control whether the case is prosecuted, most prosecutors will not go forward without your consent. Prosecutors usually consider many factors in determining whether to prosecute without a victim’s consent, including whether there is enough evidence to support a conviction without the victim’s testimony. If you have any questions or concerns throughout the process, you have the right to contact the case detective and/or the prosecuting attorney’s office.

Protective Order

A protective order is an official legal order issued by a state court that requires the abusive person to stop the violence and abuse and maintain a certain distance from the victim. Depending on where you live, it can also be called a restraining order, protection order, an injunction, or an order of protection.

How do I get a protective order?
Different states have different processes, but as a general rule, appropriate forms have to be filled out and submitted to the county court house. A court date will be scheduled and both parties will be notified. If you are under 18, you will likely need parental consent.

Why would I get a protective order?
A protective order is legal protection against the abusive partner and can be enforced by police. Special provisions can be requested such as custody of children, continued financial support, getting the abuser to leave the residence, etc. Some states also require the abusive partner to surrender their firearms.

It’s important to note that while a protective order may help keep an abusive partner away from you, it does not work in every case. Some abusive partners continue to contact and abuse their partners despite the presence of a protective order. Some may become even more dangerous after an order is filed because it threatens their power and control over the relationship. While you cannot predict someone’s behavior, you know your situation best, and it’s a good idea to consider how your partner might react based on what you know about them before obtaining a protection order.

What happens when I get a protective order?
When the abuser does something that the court has ordered them not to do, or doesn’t do something the court has ordered them to do, they may have violated the order. You can ask the police or the court (or both, depending on the violation) to enforce the order. If you are not able to contact the police when the violation occurs, they should take a report if you call them soon afterwards. In some cases, violating a protective order might result in a misdemeanor or felony criminal conviction and punishment. These types of violations can also later be addressed by a civil court, and it is often a good idea to bring them to the court’s attention.

Things to consider before obtaining a protective order:

  • PROS: You will have legal documentation of protection; the abuse may stop; provisions can be made for children, finances, etc.; can still be enforced if you move or leave your home state
  • CONS: You will have to see the abusive partner in court; abuse may not decrease/abusive partner may not obey the order; some orders are not always enforced

Please note that police reports and protective orders are just parts of an overall safety plan and do not guarantee your safety from an abusive partner. Remember, you are the most knowledgeable person about your own situation, and you must use your own judgment about what is best for you. If you are considering taking legal steps against an abusive partner, we strongly recommend that you get in touch with a legal advocate, and we can help you find one in your area. Please call us at 1-800-799-7233 or chat online from 7am-2am CST.

Resources and additional information:

  • VINE (Victim Information & Notification Everyday): This service provides information about criminal cases and the custody status of offenders 24 hours a day
  • Full Faith and Credit: Refers to Section 2265 of VAWA and requires that a valid protection order issued in one state be treated another state as if it were one of its own. It enables the victim to travel safely without having to establish jurisdiction or secure a new protective order.
  • WomensLaw provides legal information and support to victims of domestic violence and assault.
  • Legal Services Corporation provides legal assistance to low-income individuals and families throughout the nation.
safety planning with children

Safety Planning With Children

Being in an abusive situation can feel incredibly scary and isolating, and if children are involved – even indirectly witnessing the abusive – it can become a lot more complicated and dangerous. A parent’s instinct is to make sure their child is safe – but how can you do this best if your abusive partner is unpredictable, or manipulative?

All of our advocates at The Hotline are equipped to help you safety plan for you and your children during any stage in your relationship. Based on what you’re going through, we can help assess the best plans of action and brainstorm different options with you – even when you’re feeling out of options.

Planning for Violence in the Home
If you are in an abusive relationship, a safety plan should include ways that your children can stay safe when violence is happening in your home. It’s key to remember that if the violence is escalating, you should avoid running to the children because your partner may hurt them as well

  • Teach your children when and how to call 911
  • Instruct them to leave the home if possible when things begin to escalate, and where they can go
  • Come up with a code word that you can say when they need to leave the home in case of an emergency  — make sure that they know not to tell others what the secret word means
  • In the house: Identify a room they can go to when they’re afraid and something they can think about when they’re scared
  • Instruct them to stay out of the kitchen, bathroom and other areas where there are items that could be used as weapons
  • Teach them that although they want to protect their parent, that they should never intervene
  • Help them to make a list of people that they are comfortable talking and expressing themselves to
  • Enroll them in a counseling program (local service providers often have children’s programs)

Planning for Unsupervised Visits
If you have separated from an abusive partner and are concerned for your children’s safety when they visit your ex, developing a safety plan for while they are at their home can be beneficial.

  • Brainstorm with your children (if they are old enough) to come up with ways that they can stay safe using the same model as you would for your own home. Have them identify where they can get to a phone, how they can leave the house, and who they can go to.
  • If it’s safe to do, send a cell phone with the children to be used in emergency situations — this can be used to call 911, a neighbor or you if they need aid

Planning for Safe Custody Exchanges

  • Avoid exchanging custody at your home or your partner’s home
  • Meet in a safe, public place such as a restaurant, a bank/other area with lots of cameras, or even near a police station
  • Bring a friend or relative with you to the exchanges, or have them make the exchange
  • Perhaps plan to have your partner pick the children up from school at the end of the day after you drop them off in the morning – this eliminates the chances of seeing each other
  • Emotional safety plan as well – figure out something to do before the exchange to calm any nerves you’re feelings, and something after to focus on yourself or the kids, such as going to a park or doing a fun activity

Planning for After You Leave

  • Alert anyone you can about the situation: school authorities like the counselor, receptionist, teachers and principal, sports instructors, and other caretakers
  • Talk to these people about what’s going on, EX. If you have a protective order or restraining order, who is allowed to pick them up, etc.

How to Have These Conversations

Let your child know that what’s happening is not their fault and that they didn’t cause it. Let them know how much you love them and that you support them no matter what. Tell them that you want to protect them and that you want everyone to be safe, so you have come up with a plan to use in case of emergencies. It’s important to remember that when you’re safety planning with a child, they might tell this information to the abusive partner, which could make the situation more dangerous (ex. “Mom said to do this if you get angry.”) When talking about these plans with your child, use phrases such as “We’re practicing what to do in an emergency,” instead of “We’re planning what you can do when dad/mom becomes violent”

If you have any questions about safety planning or want an advocate’s help in developing a personalized safety plan for your child, give us a call at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).