Women’s Center and Shelter


Do PFAs Work? Can the Legal System Help Women of Domestic Violence More?

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Is there more the legal system can do to help women of Domestic Violence?

The recent tragic death of Alina Sheykhet at the hands of her ex-boyfriend has raised questions and concerns about PFAs. Alina had taken this step, with the support of her family, to obtain this legal order. Sadly, even this did not protect her from his rage. Alina, in the prime of her life, was killed at the hands of her abuser.

It leaves the mind and heart wondering why? Is there more the legal system can do to help women of Domestic Violence?

In an ordered world, a PFA SHOULD stop an abuser. But the mind and world of an abuser is anything but ordered.

  • Unfortunately, research shows that for offenders who have a history of violence, a PFA may not be enough.
  • Leaving is the most dangerous time—that’s when an abuser feels he’s losing all control. Controlling and dangerous behavior may actually escalate.
  • Immediately after obtaining a PFA, reaching out to a DV shelter for help with safety planning can be life saving. Every situation is different, and the staff at the Shelter is skilled in knowing what resources are available for your unique circumstances.

What is a PFA?

PFAsAn order for Protection from Abuse (PFA) is court mandated protection from the abuser, even if criminal charges have not been filed. It is often the first step in the process of stopping abuse.

  • In Allegheny County, 4000 PFAs are issued per year. Many more women need this protection, and do not file. This may be because they do not know how to file, do not have access to support, or have seen the horrific effects when PFAs are not honored and abuse escalates.
  • It’s important to know: Calling your local domestic violence program will help you understand the PFA process and how to go about obtaining one.

If PFAs don’t always work then why would I file one?

A PFA is the first step in letting law enforcement AND your abuser know that you are seeking help. It is a clear statement that YOU are not tolerating the abusive behavior that has occurred.

And, it is important to remember, that most times they DO work.

  • We WANT women to obtain PFAs–to be supported to be free from Domestic Violence.
  • If police see that there is a PFA on the perpetrator, they will be more informed as to what’s going on (taken place in the past if you have to call them again and they can be better prepared when they arrive at the scene) AND it leaves a paper trail.

It is important that a woman file aPFA !!!

And there are extra steps the victim can take.

It’s not fair, but it’s safer to do so.

  • Extra steps include calling a DV program and doing safety planning.
  • Also, depending on the situation, temporary locating to where an abuser wouldn’t know how to find you can save your life.

It’s unfortunate that the responsibility still lies with the woman to protect herself and NOT on the abuser to comply with a court order. Your safety is key during this time.

What else could get in the way of a PFA being effective?

One of the biggest obstacles may be that judges at the time of issuing a PFA do not have access to previous acts of violence perpetrated by the abuser.

  • Justice systems are technologically archaic. In most areas judges don’t always know what previous records the offender has at time of issuing a PFA order or establishing bond.

Other states or counties may not have information about the abuser’s prior charges and offenses.

And it is important to know, that victims themselves may not even know about previous abuse. Often the changes are subtle, leaving the woman to think she has done something wrong. How could this person who loved her now be so controlling, abusive, jealous?

It’s important for ANY woman to know that help is available, not just for filing a PFA but also for safety planning, as well as legal advocacy. No one needs to face this process alone.

Last year, Women’s Center and Shelter helped OVER 3,000 adults with legal advocacy.

If you or someone you know needs help, call (412) 687-8005.

For more information:
Legal Advocacy
Safety Planning