How To: Obtain a Court-Issued Restraining Order

This is part of our toolkit for high schools student survivors. Return to the landing page here, learn your Title IX rights here, and see answers to frequently asked questions here. We are always looking for feedback! Email us at knowyourix [at] gmail [dot] com.

[Note: In some states, minors don’t have access to restraining orders. Learn your state’s policy on restraining orders here].

If you have been sexually assaulted, harassed, or threatened, the legal system may be able to help keep your attacker away from you. One way to do this is with a protection order (also known as a “restraining order” and “injunction against harassment”). A protection order is an order used by a court to protect you in situations of sexual violence or harassment. Your abuser can be ordered to stop hurting or threatening you. They can be ordered to stay away from you or your home, and be prohibited from contacting you. In some states, your abuser might be required to turn in firearms or attend treatment programs. If your abuser is also the parent of your child, the order may require your abuser to provide financial or other assistance and help you coordinate visitations between the abuser and the child, if desired.

If you obtain an order, your abuser will be given notice that you have filed for a protection order against him or her. You should make copies of your protection order and put them in safe places where you can access them quickly, like your bag, car, locker, and home. You may want to let your school know and provide school administrators with a copy of the protection order so they can help keep you safe. If you have a child that the protection order covers, ensure that your child’s caretakers know about and have access to the protection order. If you move, you do not necessarily have to get a new order. Many states have provisions to register out of state orders so they can be enforced.

If your abuser violates the requirements of the protection order, your abuser may be warned, arrested, or fined.  Violating a protection order is a crime and the violator can be prosecuted. Once the order is given to your abuser, only the state can remove the order prior to the order’s expiration. If you choose to allow your abuser to violate the order (such as by calling him or her) before then, the state may enforce the order without your consent. You may request that the state dismiss the order prior to the expiration of the order.

To get a protection order, you should contact your local police department or state courthouse or, alternately, your local rape crisis center which may have advocates available to assist you. They will be able to tell you how to get a protection order and may refer you to free or low cost legal professionals who can help you obtain one. Expect to provide information about your abuser and some information about why you want protection. The length of time and type of order the court may grant will depend on a variety of factors including your relationship to the abuser, the type of threat he or she poses to you, and your state’s law. If you are under 18, your state may require your parental involvement. In most states, you can file a restraining order against someone who is under 18.

–Nina Gurak, Iris Z., and students in the Gender Violence Clinic at the University of Maryland Carey School of Law

Although these resources have been written with the guidance of legal experts, we are not lawyers, and the information on this website does not constitute legal advice. We encourage you to contact a lawyer to discuss your complaint or suit.