Abstract: Developing Macro-Level Solutions: Advocate Perspectives of Institutional Barriers in Access to Domestic Violence Civil Protection Orders (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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Developing Macro-Level Solutions: Advocate Perspectives of Institutional Barriers in Access to Domestic Violence Civil Protection Orders

Friday, January 13, 2023
Laveen A, 2nd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Hsiu-Fen Lin, PhD, Postdoctoral Researcher, Arizona State University, Phoenix, AZ
Alesha Durfee, PhD, Professor, St, Louis University, Missouri, MO
Jill Messing, MSW, PhD, Professor, Arizona State University, Phoenix, AZ

Over one-third of U.S. women experience intimate partner violence (IPV) in their lifetime. Civil protection orders may provide survivors a flexible civil court option for IPV intervention and survivors have noted that orders of protection increase feelings of safety. Past research has focused on barriers to obtaining orders of protection at the individual-level, such as fear of the legal system, poor experiences with the courts, or the dynamics of control and abuse. It is important to also understand structural level and procedural barriers in order ensure that survivors have access to this intervention. Therefore, this research examines advocate perceptions of institutional barriers and identifies solutions that may assist survivors in obtaining orders of protection.


Researchers conducted in-depth semi-structured interviews with 20 advocates who work with survivors to obtain orders of protection. Participants held positions as domestic violence victim advocates (n=8), legal advocates (n=11), and a shelter manager (n=1) from one city in the Southwestern U.S. Advocates were asked about the barriers for survivors who would like to apply for and receive orders of protection, and the solutions that may create more equitable systems. All the interviews were audio-taped, transcribed, and analyzed by Nvivo 12.


Advocates identified six main institutional barriers to survivors’ access to civil protection orders. First, children are often not allowed in the courtroom and the lack of childcare at courthouses and shelters was a noted barrier across interviews. Advocates identified that available childcare at courthouses and shelters would be a significant solution that would allow survivors the time to complete lengthy paperwork, prepare and attend hearings, and obtain full protection orders. Second, survivors are often unaware of civil protection orders and the options provided by this intervention. Providing comprehensive information may assist survivors to understand their options. Third, for undocumented survivors, it is important that the documentation needed for obtaining an order is flexible. Fourth, staff with language competency across multiple languages (or translators) are needed to translate legal requirements for survivors to communicate with the court effectively. Fifth, survivors often have transportation issues, and expanding accessibility to the courts is important, particularly in rural areas. Finally, advocates were clear that providing orders is not enough; survivors need comprehensive safety planning specific to orders of protection to increase the effectiveness of protection orders.

Discussion & Implications

The advocates that were interviewed identified multiple institutional barriers and solutions in the application and receipt of civil protective orders. Identifying and removing structural barriers is essential to assist survivors in overcoming structural obstacles to accessing civil protective orders. Gender inequities are intertwined with isolation due to violence, lack of mobility, and insufficient childcare support; in turn, the power and control permeates from private to public and leave survivors limited access to protection orders. This study highlights the importance of identifying, analyzing, and implementing institutional level changes to legal responses to domestic violence.