Restraining orders (also known as intervention, protection, or apprehended violence orders) place specific restrictions on the stalker’s contact with the victim that can include communications, approaches or other forms of harassment. Breaches of the order can result in harsh sanctions, including imprisonment. While obtaining a restraining order can be an effective way to bring an end to many cases of stalking, it should not be regarded an automatic response to harassment and the suitability of taking such a measure should be determined on a case to case basis. Criticisms of restraining orders have included:
- That they can provide a false sense of security for the victim and have sometimes been called a “paper shield”
- That they incite the stalker to escalate the harassment or act violently
- They are unlikely to be effective against ex-intimates who have invested a great deal in the relationship or those whose stalking is driven by delusional beliefs
- The failure to strictly enforce a restraining order may send a message to the stalker that the order can be disregarded and that the victim is not being protected
Therefore when considering taking out a restraining order it is important that:
- Victims are aware of the limitations and that the period immediately after the order is issued is a time of heightened risk, particularly when issued following an escalation in the stalking or after threats have been made.
- The victim continues to take steps to ensure their personal safety and always reports breaches
- The order be considered as an adjunct to other legal actions or that it might be better to seek criminal charges if theft, threats to kill or assaults occur
The Stalking Resource Center in the USA has recently published an article of the benefits and shortfalls of restraining orders in that country, which can be found here. The issues discussed in this article are relevant in many other Western, English-speaking jurisdictions.