“My sister called the police on her boyfriend this weekend because they got into ANOTHER fight, and she got a restraining order. She just told me today that she dropped the order and let him back in the house. It must not be as bad as she says if she’s letting him come home two days later, right?”
So very, very wrong. But a very common misconception. Even police officers are confused when they are respond to a domestic violence call where one person has clearly been assaulted, but doesn’t want a restraining order. But it happens all the time. Women who come to the courthouse to get a 7 or 10 day restraining order never return to extend it, and the order is terminated. Or they may get the order they want (say, 6 months or a year) and are suddenly, uncharacteristically, coming into amend the order to include communication or requests that they previously wanted to make sure were NOT on the order. Most people think it’s because she exaggerated the night of the incident, or it couldn’t have been that bad, or someone was lying in order for an abuser and a survivor to end up back together after an assault.
Maybe this person we’re hypothetically talking about is your older sister, Mom, Aunt, or even Grandmother. People on the outside of the situation don’t always know the truth, but most likely, no one was lying about what happened. She was in fear for her life. She did think a restraining order was the best way to keep her partner away. She was acting quickly and in the interests of her safety, her home, her children…in whatever way she needed to maintain protection of her life and the lives she cares about. But what isn’t always visible to those outside of the relationship is what goes on when he gets out of jail…
He might be threatening her in a way that doesn’t make her feel like the police can protect her (or sometimes, he might even be a member of law enforcement, which can make it especially difficult for victims to seek their help, knowing everyone on the force knows her boyfriend/husband). He might have told her he was going to stop paying for the car she uses that’s in his name, or the utility bills in their home that he’s responsible for. We’ve seen many times where an incident occurs in the home and the abuser is removed, but his name is on the lease/mortgage so he stops paying or contributing for the home, as a way of coercing the survivor to let him back in and have a place to live. Or sometimes he uses the children to send messages to their Mom that they’re going to lose the house/car/etc unless she lets Dad back home to help pay the bills and ‘keep them safe.’
For anyone who’s grown up in a home with domestic violence, you know that it’s not safe and that even if you’re not a direct target of the abuse, the yelling, swearing, slamming things, and living in constant fear are traumatic and do affect you and your future relationships. Sometimes the choices we have to make in these situations are hard, and are short term solutions to a problem that needs more planning, time, and preparation to solve. Leaving a situation of intimate partner violence (especially if there are children involved) is far more difficult than packing a bag and moving in with a friend. It’s anxiety provoking, dangerous, and often very uncomfortable. Next time you wonder why someone who’s in an abusive relationship drops a restraining order, lets her partner move back in, or continues to communicate with them even when they’re not supposed to, think about it from all sides. And be supportive, not judgmental when talking with this person, as she may be going through SO much more than you realize.
-IH Teen Counselor