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Why PFAs Are Not Always The Answer

Earlier this month, Western Pennsylvania was rocked by another domestic violence related murder-suicide — and this time, the estranged husband shot two police officers, one fatally, before killing himself. It is an all-too-familiar news story in Pennsylvania and across the United States: a husband or boyfriend kills his current or former wife or girlfriend and potentially others (family members, children, first responders) before killing himself. In many of these cases, the killer had previously been arrested for domestic violence and/or had a restraining order against him.

In Pennsylvania, restraining orders are known as Protection From Abuse orders, or PFAs. It is a civil (i.e., not criminal) order that gives a person and/or their minor children some form of protection from their abuser. A PFA can be obtained against current or former romantic partners, family members, household members, and current or former intimate partners. The order will describe the things that the abuser cannot do in relation to the victim, such as come within a certain number of feet of her/him, or be in the same house. If the abuser violates the protective order, the police may file criminal charges. As of 2015, there are two additional options for protective orders in Pennsylvania: Sexual Violence Protection and Protection from Intimidation orders. You can learn more about these orders here.

While PFAs can be helpful for victims of violence, they are not always the most effective or safest option. Dalia Sabae, the woman killed by her estranged husband earlier this month, had a PFA against the abuser who killed her. Tierne Ewing, who was kidnapped and killed by her abusive former partner in September, had a PFA against him. The reasons why PFAs are not always effective are often complicated. In some cases, the police may not take violations of a PFA seriously — or the abuser may kill or harm his victim before the police have the opportunity to act. A PFA can help in certain situations, but it will not guarantee safety or protection.

If you are a victim of abuse and are considering obtaining a PFA, you can talk to one of our counselors about your options. This could include looking at what might happen as a result of filing a PFA petition, or helping you make a larger plan to be safe from abuse, such as a safety plan. All of our services are available free of charge to victims of violence and crime, including our emergency shelter for victims of intimate partner violence. You can contact us 24 hours a day, 365 days a week at 1-888-832-2272 or 724-836-1122 to speak to someone on our hotline.

At Blackburn Center, we are here for victims of violence and crime. In partnership with our statewide organization, the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence, we will continue to advocate for legislation designed to protect victims of domestic violence and to make our communities safer. If you would like to help support our mission and allow us to keep providing these critical services, please consider making a donation to our organization. By working collaboratively, we can make a difference.

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