October 20th, 2020

Protection from Domestic Violence

If you are the victim of domestic violence, you can be free from abuse. Whether or not you live with your abuser, you can seek protection from domestic violence in several ways. Keep reading to see which one best fits you and your situation.

Defining domestic violence

Before we explain how to protect yourself from domestic violence, let’s first define the term.

Previously domestic violence was termed “intimate partner violence,” but it now extends to abusive acts committed by family and household members, These members include current and ex-spouses, dating partners, siblings, parents, and other blood relatives.  Additionally, note that it covers those in heterosexual and same-sex relationships, and does not require sexual intimacy or shared living arrangements. It can also address a one-time or frequent occurrence.

While less prevalent, this type of violence can start during teen dating, not just in adult relationships, It impacts about 25% of females, 14% of males. Some violent acts may be minor, but the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence reported 112 people died from these incidents in 2019.

How can you seek help and protection?

Protection from Abuse Order (PFA)

A Protection from Abuse Order, or PFA, in Pennsylvania can be sought to protect the abused and other loved ones from an abuser. A PFA may safeguard you from economic, emotional, psychological, physical and sexual forms of abuse, as well as threats and stalking.

To obtain one, you can apply with your local courthouse (click here for Lehigh County, here for Northampton County). “Local” can apply to where you live, the abuser lives or where the abuse occurred. Once a judge hears your case, you may receive a temporary order, which can be finalized after your abuser has an opportunity to present their side of the story. The judge will also decide the length of the PFA, with the longest allowable length being 36 months.

While you don’t need a lawyer to obtain a PFA, it may be helpful, especially if the accused has one and argues against your request.

What does a PFA do?

If you are a parent, a PFA also protects your children. Under PA Domestic Relations law and in addition to granting relief from abuse, the Order can also require the accused to:

  • relinquish custody rights
  • leave your shared home
  • stop all contact with you
  • lose ability to own or acquire a firearm
  • cover losses that resulted from the abuse

Other types of protection orders

Perhaps your abuser isn’t a family member and doesn’t live with you. While you can’t apply for a PFA, there are protection orders that may work in your particular circumstances.

A Sexual Violence Protection Order (SVPO) is available to adults and minors against a non-family member. The accused may be an acquaintance, co-worker, friend or even a stranger. It protects victims from sexual violence or abuse, even if criminal charges have been filed against the perpetrator. Learn more about them and how to apply for them here.

If you are a minor and being stalked or harassed by a non-family member, you may apply for a Protection From Intimidation Order (PFIO). Once you have a PFIO, the perpetrator may not enter your home, place of employment or school. Additionally they may not directly or indirectly contact you. It’s not a criminal charge, but rather a way to stop further intimidation. If a PFIO is violated, charges may be pressed.

Consult your local county court to apply for these orders.

Supportive programs

Any of the above types of abuse should not be allowed to continue. While it may be a scary situation, there are organizations to help you navigate the process!

In Pennsylvania, please check out the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence to find a local resource. Help centers provide free services like counseling, legal guidance and shelter for domestic violence victims and their children.

Should your protection order be challenged or lead to criminal charges against your abuser, you may also want to consult a domestic relations attorney.


A former prosecutor, Constance K. Nelson counsels families and individuals facing domestic matters including the aforementioned protective orders, custody, divorce, adoption, alimony and more.