We are in the beginning weeks of our annual legislative session and as is so common these days, we are seeing a smattering of proposals to create protection orders to ward off some circumstances of being harassed, threatened or being in physical danger from another. I am hoping this might help us all to better understand protective orders and how they are but one tool to consider when trying to protect one’s self against someone trying to hurt us.

We have long heard the frustrating comment about protective orders being just a piece of paper that can’t stop a bullet. Very true but the piece of paper is not what was meant to reduce domestic violence, stalking or rape. Protective orders were created to be the mechanism to jump start the various parts of the justice system that are meant to protect us.  The reality is that the mechanism rarely goes beyond asking for a court order.  And even those seem to be coming more difficult to be granted.

A court issued protective order is meant to 1) inform the person causing harm that they must stop the harmful behaviors, leave the person they are harming alone in their daily lives, and sometimes add temporary solutions to deal with children in common; 2) put law enforcement on notice that there are some prohibited behaviors that indicate increased risk of violence and require immediate arrest to prevent further violence; and 3) prosecution or other increased means will be necessary if the person causing harm refuses to follow the court order.  Following this understanding, a person seeking a protective order must fully understand their responsibilities (and further danger) to implement the protections and the system – law enforcement, prosecutor and judges must follow the law and enforce the orders.

Dr. TK Logan, Professor of Behavioral Health at the University of Kentucky has done extensive research on domestic violence and the various methods used by those that cause harm as well as interventions that can work to reduce domestic violence. Back in 2010 she published her research on the effectiveness of civil protective orders in domestic violence titled “Justice or just a piece of paper?” [i]Her conclusions are that yes they are very effective IF they are enforced by the system players that are supposed to help when a victim has requested assistance through the protective order process.

It is easy to think we have protective orders for many situations nowadays. Policy makers often determine that creating yet another protective order for this particular different situation is a solution to reducing harmful behavior. The problem has become, in my 40 years of observing – they have almost become meaningless to our courts and law enforcement.  I have heard many, many times that attorneys advise their clients in divorce or custody actions, “don’t mention DV, the judge will rule more harshly against you”. We hear on a regular basis, victims are told – by law enforcement, child welfare, and other well-meaning helpers – you MUST go get an order of protection. Unfortunately, when the systems do not support the victim once the order is issued, this just makes the harm doer angry and causes more harm for the family.

So am I advising against orders of protection? Absolutely not. What I would like to see more of is understanding – by everyone – of what protective orders are for and how they work.  Then we can use them in real efforts to reduce domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking.  Other harmful actions between humans can be handled in ways that are more effective depending on the circumstances and the relationships be they neighbors, work colleagues or strangers in the grocery store.  Protective orders can and do work if we utilize them correctly.

[i] Logan, T. & Walker, R. (2010). Civil protective order effectiveness: Justice or just a piece of paper? Violence and Victims, 25, 3, 332-348.


By Vickie Smith
Illinois Coalition Against Domestic Violence
January 2022