Domestic Violence and Virginia Protective Orders

Whenever there is domestic violence involved in a case, we advise our clients about protective orders. It’s really one of the only tools in our arsenal available to help protect clients who are at risk from their former partners.

On the one hand, it’s just a piece of paper. On the other, it works in the vast majority of cases, and it can have other useful components, too. It’s technically on the criminal side, so it can have implications for a person’s security clearance, and their ability to own/possess firearms. Sometimes, just the threat of those consequences can make an abuser back off. You can also, in certain circumstances, include children, especially if the abuser’s behavior has been targeted to children specifically. Or, if children aren’t included, a protective order can spell out how visitation will take place while the protective order is in place, sometimes even naming a person to help facilitate visitation exchanges to protect the abused partner.

Sometimes, a protective order includes a prohibition against hostile contact, and other times it prohibits all contact.

A protective order can take a lot of shapes and forms, but they share one thing in common: they’re pretty hard to get!

Judges look at these things with a very critical eye, not wanting to go overboard. Though it’s a full hearing, with evidence and witnesses and exhibits, judges aren’t inclined to give protective orders out willy nilly. In fact, they look at things pretty critically, and leave many abused partners feeling like the system will do little to nothing to protect them. I had a client once – who, it must be said, had a partner who was convicted of assault – fume to me that it was a shame that, even after a conviction, there still wasn’t a guarantee that she’d get a protective order. She said (and I agree!) that we treat it “like it was a marital dispute over who had done the dishes”; that is to say, an infraction that is ultimately dismissable.

Of course, it’s just a piece of paper. So, for a person who is hellbent on abusing their former partner, there’s still a way. As long as there are weapons, there’s a way – and what does a piece of paper really stop? And as an attorney, I feel pretty powerless most of the time, because it’s not like I’m living in my client’s homes, or walking them to their cars every day, to protect them. I can’t! And, anyway, even if I did, I’d likely just be collateral damage for a truly crazy person.

So, what can you do? How can you protect yourself if you’re the victim of domestic violence?

Well, obviously, I’d do what I could to get a protective order, no matter what. And, if I was afraid for my safety at any time, I’d call the police.

All too often, we’re afraid to sound the alarm – until it’s too late – because we don’t want to be seen as paranoid or hysterical. (Though, frankly, who wouldn’t be a little paranoid if they’re dealing with a spouse or partner who wants to hurt you?)

There are other things you can do, too.

1. Protect your address.

If you’re the victim of domestic violence, you can un-list your home address. You can even ask that the court keep this information private, and not share it with him. I would definitely look into the process for doing that, if I were concerned about my safety.

Obviously, if he already knows where you live, you can’t do that – but, if he’s a big enough threat that I found myself reading this article, I would move – and then make my address private and unlisted so that he couldn’t find me.

2. Get a new cell phone number.

Disconnect your phone and get a new number. It may be inconvenient, but it may also be a really important strategic move.

3. Have a tech savvy person check your computer and/or phone for malicious programs.

If you think he’s spying on you, have your computer and cell phone checked, or get new ones to which he has never had access.
Change your passwords, too, to things he’ll never be able to guess. Don’t forget to update security questions as well. You could even get an entirely new email address!

4. Install a security system.

Something with cameras! Doorbell cameras, cameras on the house – whatever. Review footage periodically, too. Make sure there is a way to access this information; give a password or login information to your mom or other close friend or family member you can trust completely.

5. Carry mace with you.

Depending on your level of comfort, you may want to consider carrying some form of protection with you. Mace is good in a lot of cases! Sometimes, having just one thing like that between you and disaster can truly be key.

Some people, of course, carry guns. I think our office would be divided on suggesting this as actual legal advice, so I hesitate to suggest it, but would also say that I believe you know best what will work for you. If you do carry a gun, make sure you know how to use it. Take lessons, practice shooting. I’ve heard before (and I don’t know if it’s true, but it sounds true!) that if you are armed but aren’t a competent shooter, you actually place yourself in more danger than if you were unarmed because the assailant can take your weapon and use it against you.

Take any threat against your personal safety seriously. Talk to your attorney or the police and make sure you take action against credible threats. Press charges, if possible. Pursue a protective order. And make sure you’ve done what you can on your end to ensure you’ll be as safe as possible.

You never know what a crazy person might do. It’s scary to think, but it’s true. If you need help with your protective order, or just have a couple of questions for an attorney before you represent yourself, give our office a call at 757-425-5200. Stay safe.

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