Criminal restraining orders to protect victims of violence and stalking are often not complied with and police and judicial action in the event of violations has limitations. Yet victims and professionals see the orders as important tools in protecting victims. This is evidenced by in-depth research by criminologists Dr Tamar Fischer and Irma Cleven MSc and Prof. Sanne Struijk from Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR), commissioned by the Ministry of Justice and Safety's Scientific Research and Documentation Center (WODC).
The researchers conclude that there are many violations of the restraining orders. Exactly how many violations there are is hard to determine. Judging from registrations at the Public Prosecution Service and the Probation Service, a breach was in a quarter of the 423 cases investigated. In a survey, victims report violations twice as much.
The orders also suppose to increase the experience of victims regarding personal security. About half of the victims indicate that the orders contribute positively to this. At the same time, over two-thirds of the victims still, feel very unsafe despite the ban. The fear of the safety of loved ones, who are often not protected by the orders, also plays a significant role.
Bottlenecks and success factors for effectiveness
The most critical bottleneck in effectively enforcing the orders is that the detection of violations largely depends on reports by the victim. Proactive signalling by enforcement authorities appears to be very limited.
Prohibitions are often imposed in complex cases where a great deal of knowledge about the specific situation and the prohibition is required to respond to a report with appropriate urgency. This information often turns out not to be sufficiently accessible for police officers. It is therefore essential for victims that, in the event of a violation, they can quickly get in touch with an employee who is aware of the case.
Attention to safety experience
An important finding is the lagging attention of the enforcement authorities for the safety experience of victims. While authorities focus primarily on preventing new incidents, victims also long for peace, a sense of freedom and the chance to be able to give place to their anger about what the suspect or perpetrator has done. Also, small confrontations (mainly if they occur frequently), or uncertainty about the chance of clashes with the suspect or perpetrator, are often highly disruptive.
About the investigation
Researchers conducted 49 interviews, studied 423 files, and 101 victim surveys were returned. Researchers were able to sketch a rich picture of compliance, enforcement practice and victim experience in criminal prohibitions.