Coping with Stalking and Stalkers

Getting the Courts Involved - Restraining Orders and Peace Bonds

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By: Dr. Sam Vaknin

Emotional, Verbal, and Psychological Abuse, Domestic and Family Violence and Spousal Abuse

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This article is meant to be a general guide to planning your escape. It is not a substitute for legal help and opinion. It does not contain addresses, contacts, and phone numbers. It is not specific to one state or country. Rather, it describes options and institutions which are common the world over. You should be the one to "fill in the blanks" and locate the relevant shelters and agencies in your domicile.

Read this article on other options and getting help!

If you want the nightmare to end, there is a rule of thumb which requires courage and determination to implement:

Involve the courts whenever possible.

In many countries, the first step is to obtain a restraining order from a civil court as part of your divorce or custody proceedings or as a stand-alone measure.

In some countries, the police applies to the court for an emergency protection order on your behalf. The difference between a protection order and a restraining order is that the former is obtained following an incident of domestic violence involving injury or damage to property, it is available immediately, granted at the police's request, and issued even outside court hours.

Many restraining orders are granted ex parte, without the knowledge or presence of your abusive partner, based solely on a signed and sworn affidavit submitted by you. A typical emergency restraining order forbids the offender from visiting certain locations such as the children's schools, your workplace, or your home. It is later reviewed. At the review you should produce evidence of the abuse and witnesses. If the emergency or temporary order upheld it is fixed for a period of time at the judge's discretion.

Always carry the restraining order with you and leave copies at your place of employment and at your children's day-care and schools. You will have to show it to the police if you want to get your abuser arrested when he violates its terms. Breach of the restraining order is a criminal offence.

The wording of the order is not uniform – and it is crucial. "The police shall arrest" is not the same as "The police may arrest" the offender if he ignores the conditions set forth in the order. Don't forget to ask the court to forbid him to contact you by phone and other electronic means. Seek a new restraining order if you had moved and your place of residence or your workplace or the children's day-care or school changed.

If the abuser has visitation rights with the children, these should be specified in the order. Include a provision allowing you to deny the visit if he is intoxicated. The order can be issued against your abuser's family and friends as well if they harass and stalk you.

A restraining order is no substitute for taking precautionary measures to safeguard yourself and your children. Abusers often ignore the court's strictures and taunt you all the same. The situation can easily escalate and get out of hand. Be prepared for such unpleasant and dangerous eventualities.

Avoid empty and unlit areas, carry relevant emergency numbers with you at all times, install a personalised alarm system, wear comfortable shoes and clothes to allow you to run if attacked. Trust your senses – if you feel that you are being followed, go to a public place (restaurant, department store, cinema). Learn by rote the transit routes of all public transport around your home and workplace and make special arrangement with the cab operator nearest to you. You may also wish to consider buying a weapon or, at least, a spray can.

If you were physically or sexually assaulted or if you are being stalked or harassed, keep records of the incidents and a list of witnesses. Never hesitate to lay charges against your abuser, his family and friends. See your charges through by testifying against the offenders. Try not to withdraw the charges even if you worked out your problems. Abusers learn the hard way and a spell in jail (or even a fine) is likely to guarantee your future safety.

Based on a criminal police file, the criminal court can also force your abuser (and his family and friends if they have been harassing you) to sign a peace bond in the presence of a judge. It is a pledge of good behaviour, often requiring your abuser to stay away from your home and place of work for a period of 3-12 months. Some peace bonds forbid the abuser from carrying weapons.

Have the peace bond with you at all times and leave copies at your children's day-care and schools and at your place of employment. You will have to show it to the police if you want to get your abuser arrested when he violates its terms. Breach of the peace bond is a criminal offence.

Do not meet your abuser or speak to him while the restraining order or peace bond are in effect. The courts are likely to take a very dim view of the fact that you yourself violated the terms of these instruments of law issued for your protection and at your request.

(continued below)

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There are many additional remedies the courts can apply. They can force your abusive partner to surrender to you households items and clothing, to grant you access to bank accounts and credit cards, to defray some costs, to pay alimony and child support, to submit to psychological counselling and evaluation, and to grant the police access to his home and workplace. Consult your family or divorce attorney as to what else can be done.

In theory, the courts are the victims' friends. The truth, however, is a lot more nuanced. If you are not represented, your chances to get protection and prevail (to have your day in court) are slim. The courts also show some institutional bias in favour of the abuser. Yet, despite these hurdles there is no substitute to getting the legal system to weigh in and restrain your abuser. Use it wisely and you will not regret it.

We deal with two particular court-related situations – custody and giving testimony – in our next two articles.

Batterer intervention programs and victims' support groups are the topics of this article.

Continue ...

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