Encouraging Legal Help Seeking for Victims of Intimate Partner Violence: The Therapeutic Effects of the Civil Protection Order


  • This research was supported by NIMH grant K23 MH067648 and pilot funds from the Summa-Kent State Center for the Treatment and Study of Traumatic Stress. We would like to thank Sara Perez, Cynthia Cluster, Keri Pinna, Brigette Shy, and the Battered Women's Shelter of Summit and Medina Counties for their assistance in data collection.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to C. Vaile Wright, Department of Psychology, Saint Elizabeths Hospital, 1100 Alabama Ave. SE, Washington, DC 20032. E-mail: vaile.wright@dc.gov


Civil protective orders (CPOs) are the most widely used justice system remedy for intimate partner violence (IPV), and were implemented to ensure safety and increase victim participation in the justice system. Limited data exists regarding the effectiveness of CPOs; however, theories of therapeutic jurisprudence argue that legal interventions in and of themselves can improve mental health outcomes. To test this hypothesis, we examined the effectiveness of having a CPO issued against one's abuser at improving the psychological sequelae of exposure to trauma. We used a longitudinal sample of female residents of battered women's shelters who had experienced IPV (N = 106; 55% African American). One-way analyses of variance using gain scores indicated that PTSD symptoms (effect size ηp2 = .16) and incidents of sexual revictimization (effect size ηp2 = .09) decreased from baseline to 6-months postshelter for women who had a CPO against their most recent abuser compared to women without a CPO. These results support theories of therapeutic jurisprudence, suggesting that having a CPO can improve mental health outcomes. Limitations and clinical implications of our findings are discussed, including arguing for a coordinated service system that incorporates both legal and psychological assistance to improve the mental health of victims of IPV.