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Courts not of much help for women in abusive relationships: Research

For most women who are trapped in abusive relationships, turning to the courts may not be effective in helping them earn more money or even returning to their prior level of earnings, new research says.



New York: For most women who are trapped in abusive relationships, turning to the courts may not be effective in helping them earn more money or even returning to their prior level of earnings, new research says.

Those women lack the financial means to leave and find themselves trapped by both poverty and abuse. "Our study convincingly shows that women`s petitioning for a Protection From Abuse (PFA) order comes with neither short- nor long-term increases in earnings growth," said associate professor of sociology Melanie Hughes from University of Pittsburgh.

"We cannot offer women a restraining order as a tool to stop abuse and then walk away. We need to offer women other forms of support, especially economic ones, during this unstable time," Hughes added.

The study is the first to assess what happens to women`s earnings before, during, and after petitioning for a restraining order. For the study, the researchers studied records of 3,923 women who had petitioned for a PFA order between January 1996 and December 1999.

They looked for changes in earnings growth before and after petitioning. The findings demonstrate the inadequacy of the two mechanisms - welfare and protective orders - that we expect women to use to escape from abusive relationships.

Sometimes, a woman cannot afford to "just leave." Sometimes, a protective order is just a piece of paper.

"And sometimes, the turmoil of abuse and the petitioning process causes not just a short-term shock but a decline in earnings that takes years to make up," explained study co-author Lisa Brush, professor of sociology.

The paper was published in a recent issue of American Sociological Review, the flagship journal of the American Sociological Association. 

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