Restraining order ramifications question, and a long sad story . .
February 25, 2013 1:59 PM   Subscribe

Asking for a shell-shocked friend who was threatened and attacked last week by her adult son. She barely managed to escape, by running into the street and stopping a passing car. She is convinced he would have strangled her if she'd not been able to get away, and she's the most level-headed person I know. He tore her clothes and bruised her, but she is OK physically (she did take photos of her bruises). He has a long history of opiod use, and has been on suboxone, which she had been paying for, since he is unemployed and uninsured. He's been using Xanax for a high, binging she thinks, and has had two seizures in the past 6 weeks when he ran out of Xanax. (Long story there, but peripheral to this question).

The attack was in the immediate post-ictal period of his most recent post-binge seizure. She tried to rouse him and he reacted violently, as though he'd been attacked himself, growling "I'm going to kill you" and lunging for her. He choked her, punched her, and she feels she only got away because she's in pretty good shape and he was groggy and a little uncoordinated from the seizure. He has no memory of any attack - loss of short-term memory is pretty common after seizures - but the problem is that by the time the police saw him he was lucid. The attitude the cops and hospital personnel displayed is that she is exaggerating to blame him, to justify kicking him out of her house, and that she completely overreacted to an arguement that got a little out of hand. He stayed overnight in a hospital, and agreed to enter rehab, but since he's uninsured and rehab is voluntary he may not stay, though that doesn't matter too much in this context if he doesn't try to return to her home.

She has now evicted him, told the hosptial people that she is not going to take him in when he is discharged, and that they can send him to a shelter if they need to - he's pretty much burned his bridges with other family and friends. She knows she had become an enabler, and she's trying to work on that, both in Al Anon and with her own therapist. She wanted him to get the support he needed, but the worry always was that he'd do harm to himself, not her.

He had a "counselor" - a cash-only guy who wrote for the suboxone, once a month. No insurance, so no other therapist.

She's considering a restraining order, but is worried that if he does manage to get it together and applies for a job in the future that a restraining order would show up on a background check. I know, it's backsliding and enabling, but she's worrying about it. She's not been able to find out much - it seems in Philadelphia that restraining orders are both difficult to obtain and find information about.

I'm not sure he was actually charged with anything, and it is possible that he will be charged with assualt and the whole worry about restraining orders may be moot, but it sounds like the cops don't have an appetite to hold him responsible and this may not happen.

Does anyone know how restraining orders appear on a Philadelphia or Pennsylvania background check? I wish this didn't matter, but even now, she is trying to protect him . .
posted by citygirl to Law & Government (19 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Screw the background check. That's years down the road and immaterial to the here and now.

Rather than deal with the police, have your friend call 311 and talk to someone about Domestic Abuse. That's what this is!

She can speak to someone about her situation and get good advice for her locality.

Now, ask her, "Do you need to be dead before you start to worry about yourself?"

God Speed
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:04 PM on February 25, 2013 [5 favorites]

He attacked his own mother. There are no excuses for that. She needs to come to grips with the fact that her son has ruined his own life and that if she EVER wants him to grow up and be successful, he needs to fail to the point of miserable disaster. Get her to get a restraining order. If it fucks him over later, so be it. He is not allowed to ruin her life or endanger her in any way just because he's her kid.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 2:07 PM on February 25, 2013 [4 favorites]

Poor thing. (I mean your friend.) This is a situation that can and unfortunately sometimes does lead directly to death at the hands of the beloved child.

This is a very special kind of DV which can accompany mental illness, particularly when the person with mental illness is not only not appropriately medicated, but using substances in a manner not prescribed.

She needs an advocate, and you might have to get creative in helping her find one. Traditional DV advocacy is oriented toward helping victims whose perpetrators are doing it for power and control, not because, as here, they are seriously mentally ill. I'd look for elder abuse outfits to locate an advocate if it were here in the Seattle area.

She also needs a lot of moral support to resist the local agencies that would prefer to foist responsibility for this public health issue -- her child -- onto her. They are playing right to her guilt.

I wouldn't pick your battle over the restraining order. I'd encourage it very much, as just one safety measure she must take to protect her own life, but the major goal is to help her effectively plan for her own safety in larger ways, like refusing further shelter to her child. Bear in mind that when this defendant is not lucid, the restraining order won't do much to shield her. I am sure there is a chance it will show up on his record later -- everything does -- but being arrested and committed will too.
posted by bearwife at 2:39 PM on February 25, 2013 [3 favorites]

Ruthless Bunny's advice is spot on. She needs to talk to someone experienced in domestic violence because a) that's what this is, b) she will get the correct contextual support, which the police and hospital system doesn't excel at delivering up in situations like this, c) they can provide her with answers to questions compassionately understanding her concerns.

She's going to need some experienced support here; her feelings are likely really complicated and extend into fear for him, shame, grief. It's common, and it's helpful to have that acknowledged.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:42 PM on February 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

My heart is breaking for her, because I can imagine being in her shoes, but this is too big for her to handle alone. She needs to get a restraining order, make sure her locks are secure (does he have a key to her house? her car?) and document any interactions with him.

It's hard for me to believe that a guy with a history of mental illness would be believed over his sober mom, who has bruises from him attacking her.
posted by emjaybee at 2:46 PM on February 25, 2013

Best answer: There are several domestic violence abuse agencies in Philly, but most are more oriented to dealing with abuse between spouses/partners. That's okay, child to parent abuse is still domestic abuse.

My first call would be here: Women Against Abuse 1(866)723-3014. Child/parent isn't specifically within their usual scope, but they could get your friend to the correct resources and answer questions about restraining orders and background checks.
posted by 26.2 at 2:53 PM on February 25, 2013

Can she talk to a different cop? We have community officers or something like that that are trained to help people with mentally ill family members and to respond to mentally ill people when they're causing trouble (very common here). We have them specifically because the regular cops are so terrible at it.
posted by fshgrl at 3:01 PM on February 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

Having a child with a seizure disorder myself-look, they do NOT make sense in that postictal stage. I am not saying she is wrong to take the steps she is taking-they make good sense, in any case-but I would want to know if he has violent tendencies or anger problems in general before I would go totally Agent Orange on him. Only she would know whether or not she has anything to worry about from him now-of course, if she even has a glimmer of belief that he might be violent with her, of course go ahead. All I am saying is that it really is possible that the violence was simply a matter of being immediately postseizure.

The rest of what she is doing is of course correct, and hopefully they will communicate this to him in rehab so he will stay and work his program.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 3:02 PM on February 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

St. Alia is right.

Post-seizure behavior is at least as bad as anything you might expect from severe brain damage due to a stroke, or from the influence of a major brain tumor.

It sounds as if he could be very much responsible for the behavior which put him in a position to have a seizure in the first place, but he cannot reasonably be blamed for his actions right after being roused from a post-seizure stupor.

And in fact, I think it would be a very good idea to have him evaluated for an underlying seizure disorder by a neurologist.

The drugs he's been taking could have been an attempt at self-medication all along.
posted by jamjam at 3:46 PM on February 25, 2013

Not only should she get a restraining order (it 'might' show up on a mythical search if & when he gets his act together someday? Yeah, well, so will that rehab time, and that doesn't mean he shouldn't be *there*!) but she should also upgrade her home security --- change her door locks, make sure windows and such are secure, maybe get a home security system installed. All of which may be overkill, but better overkill than risk having him break in and hurt her again.

Oh, and if you can, try to convince her to cut off all contact with him: no emails, no letters or phone calls or texts or anything else. She's got to stand firm, or she'll be right back at square one, only this time with and ENRAGED druggie son.
posted by easily confused at 4:34 PM on February 25, 2013

I would see if there are ways to help protect her other than a restraining order. (I like the suggestion above to improve physical security). Codepence happens in part because the codependent person can be negatively impacted by letting the other person "suffer the consequences." One thing she may not be effectively voicing: If a restraining order negatively impacts his ability to get employment, it may make it more likely that he never gets on his feet and ultimately ends up back on her doorstep. That is a valid concern, nothing neurotic or unhealthy about it. Further, as the mother, people will blame her for his failures and she will feel guilty. These can have real impact on her life.

There is also a disconnect for me between your description that she is very level-headed and she is also a serious enabler.

I would try to act as a sounding board for her issues and help her work out what her options are. It would be best if you can do so minus some of these blaming labels, like drug addict and enabler. It sounds like a tragic situation where all parties are a victim of his brain disorder. That is a tough situation to deal with even if everyone is doing all the right things. It might help her to hear that. It might help her to let go of some of her guilt, blaming him, etc. His brain does not work right. She is in over her head and outside resources are needed to deal with it. No one needs to be blamed here. Some kids are just born with brain disorders and are hard to cope with under the best circumstances.

That doesn't mean he should be let off the hook. He still has to be held responsible for working on his issues. Having compassion for the fact that it sucks to be him does not mean "Oh, and that makes it okay to violently assault mom -- go ahead. Feel free to do it again." But it does tend to shift the focus to looking for solutions rather than punishments.
posted by Michele in California at 4:52 PM on February 25, 2013 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: As most of the posts above point out, making the person having the seizure responsible for post-ictal behavior, even if violent, seems just - wrong. But, she would be just as dead as if it was intentional behavior. He obviously has serious underlying issues and he needs a thorough evaluation. He has refused, and as you all know, having a mental illness does not automatically get a person competent intervention, unless that person acts out in a way that brings the Law. I don't think the cops really believed her.

I don't know what he will do now, without a home, without insurance, and without Suboxone. This is only the second seizure she knows of, the other one coming after a previous Xanax bender. She got him to a psych hospital for a week as an inpatient because she was so scared about that. He was evaluated by a neurologist and psychiatrist, but all the records are private - and he didn't share. He was very angry about the previous hospitalization, and that may have played into his violent response this time.

She has made her home secure.

Thank you fshgrl, for the Women against Abuse suggestion. I don't know why I didn't think of it, and no doubt they can answer this restraining order question as well as what I think is the actual underlying issue of guilt and feeling ultimately responsible for his descent into drug addiction.
posted by citygirl at 4:58 PM on February 25, 2013

A restraining order is only as good as the person's ability to NOT open the door when the other person comes knocking. At this point, since she has evicted him, I think she can get most of the benefit if she simply refuses to let him come into her house and if she follows up by calling the police for tresspassing if he refuses to leave and otherwise just practice the same distancing behavior that she would use if there was a legal restraining order. That would also give her time to assess how he responds to those boundaries. If he leaves her alone once she makes it clear that she does not want contact, then a restraining order is not needed and everyone wins. If he ignores her repeated requests and/or takes threatening action, then she will have better grounds to purse the order through the courts.
posted by metahawk at 5:49 PM on February 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: This question has taken a turn toward whether the young man is at fault for his actions. That's really not the question and it's not relevant.

The question is about the whether a restraining order would appear on a background check.

It's easy to say it's not his fault or to suggest thousands of dollars of neurologist costs for someone uninsured and unwilling. However, that also smacks of making his behavior his mother's problem or fault. This is not helpful.
posted by 26.2 at 7:20 PM on February 25, 2013 [5 favorites]

But his culpability IS relevant when considering whether or not a restraining order is appropriate. From what I have read here she may not even be able to get one. As to medical care, I know that anyone withdrawing from Xanax can have a seizure so he may not be otherwise prone to a seizure disorder, so that part of the issue may or may not be relevant.

She has to decide for herself if he is an actual threat to her safety 100 percent of the time, not just when coming out of the haze of a seizure, when he truly does not know what the heck he is doing. That has to be the deciding factor, not whether or not a restraining order would show up on a background check.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 5:12 AM on February 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I wrote this last night. I hesitate to post it because I suspect this kind of service or program does not really exist. I know this was something I had to figure out myself. But I read the above remark about the restraining order only being as good as her ability to refuse to open the door. As a former professional victim, I think learning to not open the door, both literally and metaphorically, is more important than whether or not she gets a restraining order.

What I wrote last night:

I am wondering if any support groups provide good coaching for how to disengage. I am a chatterbox and prone to high engagement, socially. In certain situations, this innate behavior quickly becomes a case of digging my grave deeper. One of the hardest things for me to learn was how to effectively disengage socially. In a relationship gone wrong, continuing to care and explain and listen and yadda usually just makes things worse. Knowing how to reduce engagement in the face of abusive or potentially dangerous situations has been enormously valuable to me.

I do not know if anyone specifically teaches that. But if they do, coaching of that sort would almost certainly be better than a restraining order.
posted by Michele in California at 5:21 AM on February 26, 2013

Response by poster: Also an excellent suggestion, Michele in California. My friend is a hyper-engaged person whose go-to response is to communicate more, not to cut it off. But I've never seen her so scared. To accept that NOT communicating is part of the answer will probably be hard to accept. A support group which encourages constructive communication might be a big part of the answer for her, validating her fear and offering suggestions I, as someone who has not experienced this, can't offer her. I am hoping she starts with Women Against Abuse, as noted above, for a nexus of information around all these issues.

The issue regarding his culpability is a difficult one. Yes, he was very impaired. On that basis I can actually see a legal defense, should it come to that. On the other hand, he would have killed her if she'd not been able to get away. That's an acute tension that is difficult to parse if you are the victim of your own son.
posted by citygirl at 6:25 AM on February 26, 2013

I have not found that disengaging is about "not communicating." I have found it is more like "actions speak louder than words." There has to be communication. But talking overly much can be a case of communicating the wrong things, like "Your feelings matter to me more than my safety and I am more okay with being assaulted than letting you feel bad." And I am telling you that in part because not communicating causes problems and hyperchatty people know that. Understanding disengagement as "actions speak louder than words" helped me learn when to shut my big fat mouth. So I suspect that she won't accept a message of "stop communicating" but she might be able to understand a message of "actions speak louder than words and all this talking is sending the wrong message."

I have two special needs sons. At times, they can be quite difficult to deal with. I have found it more effective to focus on solutions than "blame." It may seem counterintuitive to a lot of people. Perhaps it was for me at one time. But I have been doing this a really long time, with excellent results (my sons are in their twenties). One son bit people when he was little and went through a period where, unbeknownst to me, he was beating up his brother. We broke him of his violent bad habits. The other son has the personality profile of a sociopath. So my remarks on not rooted in pie in the sky, feel good theory. They are rooted in raising very difficult kids who probably should have had run ins with the law at some point but never have.

However, this is probably not the place to get into that further. You can memail if you have any reason to discuss that aspect of it.
posted by Michele in California at 7:10 AM on February 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: "But his culpability IS relevant when considering whether or not a restraining order is appropriate."

It most certainly is not. Restraining orders are not to punish the recipient, they're to protect the requester. The court will decide if the RO is appropriate; there's no need for lay-people to attempt to try the case in their minds before letting the courts take a look.

Restraining orders are tricky, though, for a few reasons. First, they are not force fields. Many in number are those who were injured or killed despite the presence of a restraining order. Second, in some cases, even attempting to get one can incite further violence.

Talk to a DV counseling organization. They will know the ins and outs of protective orders. Local organizations will also know how seriously they're taken by the police and how quickly they respond to reports of violations (this actually varies). They'll know what the required showing is and what the judges expect or allow.

In short: there is almost nothing AskMe can provide that will be more accurate than an experienced, local DV group.

As to your question about background checks: there's no one answer here. Some background checks will turn up TROs, some will not. In most states (as far as I know), the order is going to be a public document. Many background checks will turn up those documents. This is something worth asking the DV group, too.
posted by toomuchpete at 7:36 AM on February 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

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