Criminal Justice System Response to Teen Dating Violence

In response to rising public awareness of the potential serious consequences of dating violence, an increasing number of states are expanding order of protection (OP) laws to allow teens to secure orders for dating violence without parental involvement. New York State did so in July 2008 with its Expanded Access Law and an NIJ-funded study was the first to examine systematically the change’s implications.

The goal of this research project was to increase understanding of teens' use of OPs as a remedy for dating violence by (1) developing a comprehensive portrait of teen use of OPs in New York State in 2009 and 2010 and (2) exploring how potential and actual teen consumers perceived these orders and the barriers they faced in using them.

Methodology

Researchers analyzed data sets for all petitions filed by teen dating violence victims (age 18 and younger) obtained from New York Family Courts, as well as criminal histories and police files on intimate partner violence incidents from the State's Division of Criminal Justice Services. In addition, the researchers conducted focus groups and individual interviews with two youth populations: (1) a statewide sample (n = 122) of both boys and girls ages 12 to 18 who were likely to be dating and exposed to dating violence but who had not necessarily used OPs (defined as the at-risk group) and (2) a small sample (n = 13) of New York City young women ages 15 to 19 who had sought or secured civil protective orders (defined as the user group). [1]

Findings

Key findings from both the analysis of records and the focus groups include the following:

  • Teen victims of dating violence had limited knowledge of and experience with using OPs and perceived substantial barriers to obtaining them. In the first two years after the Expanded Access Law passed, 1,200 juveniles petitioned New York Family Courts for dating violence OPs against 1,205 different respondents (i.e., abusers). Police were involved in slightly more than 10 percent of the incidents that prompted the teen victims to seek OPs. In focus groups, teens reported a general lack of awareness and understanding of the new law, as well as concerns about being labeled "snitches" by their peers, fears that OPs would not work, and ambivalence about giving up on the abusive relationship.
  • Almost all petitioners were female and were younger than their dating partners. In more than 90 percent of cases, petitioners were female and respondents were male. The average age of the abusers was slightly less than 21 years old; on average, the abusers were 2.92 years older than their victims.
  • Despite their youth, the majority of male respondents had criminal histories. About half (51 percent) of respondents had an adult arrest record, with an average of four arrests each.
  • Most of the abuse alleged by petitioners involved harassment and assaults. Alleged abuse included harassment (83.7 percent), aggravated harassment (50.9 percent), assault (52.3 percent) and disorderly conduct (53.3 percent).
  • Repeated, escalating violence drove teens to pursue OPs, and support before and after the decision was seen as critical but extremely limited. OP users painted a picture of a justice system in transition, where key players had not yet developed a systematic approach to working with young petitioners and the process itself could be re-traumatizing.
  • Teens with children were motivated primarily to pursue OPs because of concerns for their babies' safety. For some teens, a parent or caring professional prompted them to seek an OP. Traditional adult-focused intimate partner violence organizations rarely work with teen clients, and youth-focused agencies claimed they did not work with this population.
  • The majority of petitioners (64.3 percent) received temporary orders, while only 20.8 percent received final orders.
  • Approximately one quarter (24 percent) of the respondents were positive on one measure of reabuse through 2011 (e.g., violation of OP, new petition filed by petitioner, or domestic incident report filed in 2011).[2] The risk for reabuse among respondents was associated with being male, having a prior criminal history, and being one or more years older than their victims, as well as having children with the victim.

Implications

The research suggests that such orders, although not yet widely used by teen dating violence victims, could be an important tool for deterring reabuse and satisfying victims, at least as expressed by the small group of OP users and the high return rates for teen petitioners. However, given the lack of police involvement in incidents of teen dating violence, unless an alternative network of adults is available to inform teens about OPs and offer help obtaining them, the use of OPs for dating violence will remain limited. In addition, New York courts face a challenge in accommodating petitioners: It takes a substantial time commitment for petitioners to be heard and to ensure that petitioners may obtain final, longer-lasting orders. Future research should examine similar policies in other states to determine whether they experience the same challenges with implementation that New York faces.

Read an abstract and access the full report, An Exploratory Study of Juvenile Orders of Protection as a Remedy for Dating Violence.

Notes

[1] The one 19-year-old was 18 when she petitioned the court for an OP for dating violence.

[2] Domestic incident reports were available only outside of New York City.

Date Created: February 13, 2014