Restraining Orders…to Do or Not to Do

Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 209A, § 1 provides that a person who believes he/she is a victim of abuse may seek a restraining order — in the Superior, District, Probate or Municipal Courts — which prohibits the alleged abuser from coming into contact with the victim.  A violation of the restraining order can be grounds for arrest and incarceration.

In order to obtain a restraining order, certain requirements must be satisfied.  First, the victim must have or have had a relationship with the alleged abuser, such as residence in the same household, relationship by blood or marriage; a child in common; or a substantive dating or engagement relationship.

If the relationship requirement is satisfied, the victim must demonstrate that the other person attempted to cause or caused physical harm, placed the other person in fear of imminent serious physical harm, or caused him/her to engage involuntarily in sexual relations by force, threat or duress.  The standard is a high one and proof can often be difficult.  For example, not all victims can prove they were physically harmed or in fear of imminent serious physical harm.  Moreover, abuse is easily disguised, such as extreme verbal abuse aimed at humiliation.

Another problem with seeking a restraining order is the understandable fear that many victims fear of consequences in the event the request for a restraining order.  This worry often overpowers many victims of abuse, causing them not to seek an order at all.

Practically speaking, what’s a victim to do?  Simply put, by one means or another, the person must find a way to feel secure and confident enough to get out of the abusive relationship.  There are many possible ways to accomplish that goal, besides a protective order.  For example, the victim may contact the local police and learn whether he/she may qualify for a license to carry mace.  Applying for a license to carry mace is similar to applying for a license to carry a firearm.  The standard, however, is not as high.

If you, or someone you know, is caught in this living nightmare, please encourage them to contact an attorney or other professional experienced with handling these types of situations.


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