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J Trauma Stress. 2012 Dec;25(6):675-81. doi: 10.1002/jts.21754. Epub 2012 Nov 26.

Encouraging legal help seeking for victims of intimate partner violence: the therapeutic effects of the civil protection order.

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Department of Psychology, Saint Elizabeths Hospital, Washington, DC 20032, USA.


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 η(p)(2) = .16) and incidents of sexual revictimization (effect size η(p)(2) = .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.

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