Our Legal System Fails Domestic Violence Survivors

Some perpetrators learn quickly not to stop abusing, just to change tactics.

Posted December 5, 2021 on Psychology Today

By Kaytee Gillis, LCSW-BACS

Domestic violence rarely makes the list of favorite topics for most of us.

Even within my millennial-infused social circle, where pop singers praise their therapists, and mental health tips from TikTok and Instagram work their way into everyday conversations, we still find that this topic elicits a wall of silence. It feels almost taboo, yet most of us know someone who has been the victim of domestic violence.

State and local laws throughout the United States protect against many forms of domestic violence, criminalizing the behavior and claiming to protect victims. A quick Google search in your state brings up legal resources and locations of where to go for help. Since domestic violence is illegal, protection is readily available.

Or is it?

There is a common assumption in our culture that domestic violence ends when the victim leaves. “Why didn’t she just leave?” is the age-old adage, creating the assumption that simply leaving will stop the abuse. However, like many of us who work with domestic violence know to be true, the abuse does not end there. What happens when the police arrive? What happens when the perpetrator leaves jail? What happens when the protection order expires? Even further, what happens when the perpetrator is a woman or the couple is part of the queer community?

Will they be believed? Will they get the protection they need? If a man seeks a protection order, will gender stereotypes prevent him from this safety measure?

The idea in our current legal system is that once a protection order has been issued, things will calm down. We have faith in that flimsy piece of paper that holds the power of protection within its ink. And usually that is true, as most people are not looking for trouble, and eventually move on after a forced cooling-off period.

The issue lies in the small percentage of the population who feel that they are above the law; those who see a protection order as merely a suggestion. For these individuals, the idea becomes don’t stop abusing, just stop getting caught, a mentality that is reinforced through a legal system that often fails to hold abusers accountable.

Studies show that abusers take advantage of loopholes in the law that prevent their victims from being protected, and up to two-thirds of the time, feel emboldened to violate a protection order against them (Allaband 2017). Yet even when protection orders are blatantly violated, little can be done to prove their violations. Perpetrators are often given the benefit of the doubt, while the burden of proof is on the victims—who must prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that these violations have taken place. With so many hurdles to jump through on their quest for protection, the protection order sometimes feels like it is worth less than the paper it’s printed on.

The system is frustrating, as it leaves victims vulnerable to further abuse at every turn. Not only do they face the chance of not being believed, but then they have to deal with the retaliation, because how dare they speak up.

It’s no wonder so many never report.


Allaband, Nicole. “Using GPS Devices to Help Enforce Protection Orders in Domestic Violence Cases.” University of Richmond Journal of Law and Technology. Nov 1, 2017.

Thank you Kaytee Gillis for submitting this great article!

Kaytlyn Gillis LCSW-BACS

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