PFAs and Domestic Violence

Posted by Joseph D. Lento | Dec 15, 2020 | 0 Comments

In October of this year, a Pennsylvania woman was allegedly tragically and fatally shot in her home by her husband. The incident came after a long and well-established pattern of abuse, for which the husband had even been convicted twice before. The woman had reportedly been considering leaving the relationship, and she had even secured a Protection from Abuse (PFA) order against him in September, only to request that it be rescinded nine days later.

This sad outcome spotlights an important question about PFAs and how they are enforced. PFAs can be helpful in disrupting immediate domestic violence situations, but do they serve as a solution to the bigger problems of domestic violence?

Understanding PFAs

Here in Pennsylvania, a Protection from Abuse (PFA) order is a specific type of restraining order designed to provide protective relief for victims of domestic abuse, often while seeking to press formal charges or to obtain a divorce. Specific characteristics of PFAs include the following:

  • They can be temporary, or they can last up to three years.
  • They can be specifically requested by the victim and granted by the courts.
  • PFAs are granted on the testimony of the alleged victim only; the other person's side does not need to be heard.
  • Formal charges don't have to be filed against the alleged perpetrator for a PFA to be granted.
  • Violating a PFA can result in immediate arrest and formal charges.

PFAs are designed to be streamlined to provide fast, temporary relief for people who are allegedly experiencing domestic violence in the home. They are not considered a permanent solution, but more like a stopgap to curb immediate abuse.

Where PFAs Fall Short

PFAs can be effective in the short term to create a needed temporary separation in a volatile relationship, but they aren't without their shortcomings. For example:

  • PFAs can be misused against the defendant. Since a PFA is issued on the testimony of the alleged victim only, it becomes too easy for a vindictive partner to use it as a weapon against the other—usually in cases where the person has been falsely accused.
  • PFAs can be rescinded without explanation. This fact is demonstrated in the story above by how easily (and quickly) the alleged victim had her PFA reversed. This makes it easier for couples to reconcile without addressing the issues that caused the violent incident, increasing the chances of another arrest in the process.
  • They represent a punitive solution rather than a preventative one. PFAs do nothing to address the root causes behind a volatile relationship. They provide no mechanism for the defendant to address their “triggers” or sufficient support for the alleged victim, so there's effectively nothing to prevent a recurrence once the PFA is lifted.

The Bottom Line

Domestic violence is a public health issue in the United States. While PFAs can help temporarily, the legal and public health systems need to find more constructive ways to address the deeper root issues behind domestic violence. Examples might include:

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy and/or anger management programs so couples can better manage their emotions and personal triggers
  • Support groups to help couples attempting to reconcile in a no-judgment environment (rather than simply supporting victims and punishing perpetrators)
  • Better support for families that focus on other known domestic violence triggers (e.g., substance abuse assistance, economic assistance)

We need stronger support systems in place, not only to protect victims but to help perpetrators deal with the issues that cause them to be prone to violence in the first place.

If you have recently been arrested on domestic violence charges, the Lento Law Firm can provide compassionate and effective legal representation. For more information, contact us here or call 888-535-3686.

About the Author

Joseph D. Lento

"I pride myself on having heart and driving hard to get results!" Attorney Joseph D. Lento passionately fights for the futures of his clients in criminal courtrooms in Philadelphia and across Pennsylvania as well as in New Jersey and nationwide. He does not settle for the easiest outcome, and instead prioritizes his clients' needs and well-being. With unparalleled experience occupying several roles in the criminal justice system outside of being an attorney, Joseph D. Lento can give you valuable behind-the-scenes insight as to what is happening during all phases of the legal process. Joseph D. Lento is licensed in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York, and is admitted pro hac vice as needed nationwide. In the courtroom and in life, attorney Joseph D. Lento stands up when the bell rings!


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