Do PFA orders really protect victims?

MOUNT GRETNA, Pa. (WHTM) – The fatal shooting of a mother of two is raising questions about Protection From Abuse orders.

Police said Patrick Derr confronted Stacey Pennington outside the Jigger Shop in Mount Gretna on Monday, then shot and killed her before turning the gun on himself. Police said Pennington had a PFA against Derr.

How do PFA’s keep you safe? In Pennsylvania, a PFA protects a victim for up to three years. You can file for an order for yourself or for children under the age of 18.

PFA’s offer different types of protection. For example, the order can make it illegal for the abuser to contact, harass or assault the victim. If the abuser breaks the PFA, they can face criminal charges.

After the murder at the Jigger Shop, some people may question the effectiveness of PFA orders. Ellen Kramer, legal director for the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said PFA’s protect tens of thousands of Pennsylvanians every year.

“Nothing will keep every person safe in every situation, but we have a wonderful system,” Kramer said. “It would be so easy to find something or somebody to blame in this situation, and the fact of the matter is Pennsylvania has some of the strongest laws in the nation, and for countless victims of domestic violence and their children very single day of every single year they do work.”

Kramer also said a PFA is just the first step.

“We would strongly encourage people to take that step to get into a domestic violence program and talk to a trained counselor, advocate about what’s going on in their lives and what they can do to keep themselves safe,” she said.

Victims would be encouraged to make a safety plan.

“Varying the time of day you come and go from different places,” Kramer said. “Being accompanied by somebody. Having a police escort if that’s appropriate.”

Kramer also said victims should be aware of the ways an abuser can use technology.

“Use GPS, will track their victims,” Kramer said. “Will use their technology, their phones, to harass a victim, to leave countless voice mails and text messages.”

Kramer also said state legislators should step up and make some changes.

“We can talk about how we can strengthen our laws in PA and on the national level to try to keep guns away from people with histories of violence,” she said.

“It’s a partial answer and I’m looking at legislation about that, so yes. Because there have been cases, although not as many as I would think, that they said, ‘okay, I’m turning my gun over to Sam, my friend.’ Well, then Sam gives them the gun back,” said Senator Pat Vance, (R-Cumberland). “And then the sheriffs saying where do we store them? We can only store so many. There’s always two sides to every story.”

That legislation is still in the planning stages.

Experts said the best way to protect yourself is to ask for help.

“Only four percent of those victims had gone in for services in the year prior to their death,” Kramer said. “We know that accessing services of a domestic violence program and in particular shelter can make a difference of 40 percent to 60 percent of lives saved,” she said.

If you are being abused and need help you can call the 24-hour national domestic abuse hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE(7233).

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