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To deter violent, abusive, and intimidating acts against victims, both civil and criminal courts have been granted the authority to restrain improper conduct. Referred to as “restraining orders,” “injunctions,” or “protective orders,” these orders restrict or prohibit one individual’s behavior to protect another individual. Although protective orders are most often thought of in conjunction with domestic violence, state legislatures have advocated their use to restrict stalking conduct, prevent abuse of elderly or disabled individuals and children, and protect crime victims and witnesses from harassment by defendants.

Recently, states have provided for protective orders in new contexts. For example, in California, an employer whose employee has been the subject of unlawful violence or a credible threat in the workplace may seek a protective order on the employee’s behalf.1 In Maine, petition for a protective order may be brought by a business that has been a victim of harassment.2

Protective orders generally include provisions restricting contact; prohibiting abuse, intimidation, or harassment; determining child custody and visitation issues; mandating offender counseling; and prohibiting firearm possession and provisions for other relief the court deems appropriate.

Courts are increasingly being given discretion to restrict conduct and impose specific conditions, and they can tailor a protective order to fit the particular circumstances of a case. However, such orders are effective only when the restrained party is convinced the order will be enforced. Unequivocal, standardized enforcement of court orders is imperative if protective orders are to be taken seriously by the offenders they attempt to restrain.

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Enforcement of Protective Orders, Legal Series Bulletin #4
January 2002
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