“Protective orders” don’t really protect women? Thanks, Scalia!

Yesterday’s Supreme Court decision in the Castle Rock v. Gonzales case removed responsibility of local police departments to enforce restraining orders that protect domestic violence victims from their abusers.
The case centered on Jessica Gonzales, who had a protective order against her estranged husband. When he kidnapped her three daughters, Gonzales called police over and over and pleaded with them to enforce the order, which ostensibly protected her and her children. But officers wouldn’t follow up on her calls for help. In the end, her husband drove himself to the police station and was killed in a shootout with officers there. They found the bodies of Jessica Gonzales’ three daughters in the back of her husband’s pickup truck.
Who really needed protection here? Apparently not Jessica Gonzales. According to the Court, it’s the Castle Rock police department.
Statistics show that protective orders are sought by the victims who need them most. But a two-year study of batterers found that almost half (48.8%) re-abused the victims after a protective order was issued. Police clearly weren’t jumping to enforce these orders, even before the Castle Rock decision came down.
The opinion (authored by my personal favorite, Justice Scalia) means that women will not be compelled to seek restraining orders if they know that police don’t have to enforce them. And more domestic violence victims will be injured and killed as a result.
UPDATE: Amanda at Pandagon on the same.

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  • http://bamber.blogspot.com Amber

    I think this doesn’t really get at the heart of the issue. The impact on restraining order enforcement will be different in other states. Colorado apparently extends state sovereign immunity to municipalities, while other states may not–the constitutional suit was necessary to pierce the immunity.
    Even in Colorado context, the result was based on a construction of state law, which can easily be amended to reflect the truly mandatory nature of enforcement, if that’s what the legislature intended (as the 10th Circuit found below).
    Ms. Gonzales may have lost her case, but that doesn’t mean that all women are so doomed.

  • ann

    Agreed that the impact will differ state-by-state. But it’s my understanding the the Colorado legislature DID intend a truly mandatory enforcement.
    The specific statutory langugage in Colorado states that law enforcement “…shall arrest, or, if an arrest would be impractical under the circumstances, seek a warrant for the arrest of a restrained person…”
    I realize Scalia reads this to mean enforcement is not “truly mandatory.” I disagree.

  • texas feminist

    I disagree. Police officers are already slow to respond to Violations of Protective Order calls. Knowing there is no accountability to them for refusing to enforce them will cause them to respond even less of the time.
    I found that the only time an officer will respond to a violation of PO call is when the violation itself is a criminal offense. I don’t understand why ANY violation of a PO isn’t considered a criminal offense. Otherwise, what’s the point of a protective order?
    Seems to me that legislation needs to be passed state-to-state which says its a criminal offense to violate a protective order under ANY of the terms of the order. That’s the only way to get past the SCOTUS ruling.
    I mean, in Texas there is now a law on the books that requires police enforcement of VISITATION Orders – so why not require the same of protective orders? I’ll tell you why. Enforcement of visitation orders more often than not will protect DAD’s RIGHTS. Enforcement of orders of protection generally enforce a woman’s right. Double standard? as usual.
    I mean, hey. Police should definitely get involved if DAD’s VISITATION rights are being violated. But a woman’s or child’s safety? Who cares? Clearly, that’s the message i’m getting from these rulings.

  • EqualityNOW

    As a fellow Texan, I have to agree that police will continue to have a double standard when it comes to enforcement of court orders. Dad is accused of molesting his little girl, but judge doesn’t buy mom’s story, so dad still gets to visitation rights. Mom refuses to put her little girl in the position of being abused, so she violates the visitation order. I assure she would be arrested. But enforce a PO against an abusive asshole, hell no. After all, at some point he was her husband which, to a lot of peole, gives him the right to do whatever he wants.
    While working at a clerkship in immigration law, I came across a memo by the Dept. of Homeland Security (more specifically USCIS) that stated anyone seeking immigration status under VAWA must provide the government official with contact information for the abuser and his family. The memo then urged said officials to have the ABUSER’S family confirm the victim’s claims of abuse to “make sure the alleged victim’s claims are credible.” Yet another example of bullshit. I mean, the abuser’s family is the “credible” source for substantiating allegations of abuse.
    Sorry to get on my soap box, but it pisses me off. I see example after example of women being treated like second class citizens. (I myself am working somewhere where all of the female law clerks are paid $3/hour less than the male law clerks, some of whom have LESS experience.) I cannot stand it anymore.