Obtaining a restraining order in Massachusetts
January 6, 2017 3:14 PM   Subscribe

Asking for a friend. Relationship of a few months has devolved from serious emotional manipulation to actual physical abuse. This guy is unhinged - violent outbursts followed by desperate apologies, text messages, showing up at her house unannounced. How does the process for obtaining a restraining order work? How long does it take? The most severe incident happened today (I'll spare the details). If she filed a police report today, could she get the order immediately? Within a few days? Is a restraining order the same as an order of protection? Or..... will a restraining order just make things worse and jeopardize her safety?
posted by onecircleaday to Law & Government (9 answers total)
I can't speak to the decision she will have to make about this but this page at MassLegalHelp outlines a lot of the specifics and they have numbers to call on the right hand side depending on what exactly is going on.
posted by jessamyn at 3:17 PM on January 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

A restraining order is a piece of paper that has almost no impact on her safety. And for some abusers, it can make thing worse by enraging them. We have no idea if this man is one of those men.

She needs to take concrete action, specifically moving some place he does not know about; getting a new phone number and phone (but keeping the old so that his messages can be recorded for future trial); changing all her usernames and passwords; alerting her employer to the threat he poses; etc.

She should, in addition, file a police report and push to speak to the prosecuting attorney as soon as possible so that he can be arrested and taken into custody. Custody will be very brief in most circumstances, but hopefully it will scare him sufficiently that he will check his behavior.

And while she's waiting for things to happen, document, document, document.

I am so sorry for your friend's experience, and thankful to you for helping her through this.
posted by Capri at 4:47 PM on January 6, 2017 [4 favorites]

She should call a DV hotline in her area because they will know exactly what to do for her city/county/state, and they will almost certainly help her.
posted by AFABulous at 4:59 PM on January 6, 2017 [4 favorites]

She should call SafeLink to get practical advice and referrals. I wouldn't rely on a restraining order alone to keep her safe.

SAFEPLAN can help hook her up with a court advocate to help her file.

Best of luck to you both.
posted by praemunire at 5:05 PM on January 6, 2017

A long time ago I was in a terribly abusive relationship where the cops arrested my ex and put him in jail for a night for attacking me in our home at the time. The next morning I (barely able to stand because I was shaking so badly) went to the courthouse to file a report and for the arraignment and was pretty much issued a restraining order on the spot with the help of a victims advocate. It is their job to support victims and help them get the protection they need and almost all Masschusetts courts have them on staff.

I would recommend going to your local courthouse, speak with the victims advocate and request one. Bring evidence of the texts, etc.

However, keep in mind a restraining order can only be exercised when the police are present. I would recommend getting one then getting your friend the hell out of where she is currently living temporarily until she finds a new place. Put her up with yourself if you can, it's just temporary. Where she is is not safe tight now if he is showing up and stalking. She should also change her number. In my situation I alerted my employer and ended up being pushed out of my job at the time because of it, so proceed with caution there, depending on her work environment. I'm also echoing the legal advice above - I found a lawyer through the MassBar Association - they will give her a free or under $25 consultation.

You are being a good friend. My situation was a living nightmare and was terrifying and seeped into and obliterated all corners of my life and I still have the emotional scars just under a decade later at times. It was having a friend like you that helped me get through it and I am forever grateful for her. There is a big bright life on the other side of this swamp though, I know so because I'm there now.
posted by floweredfish at 6:31 PM on January 6, 2017 [8 favorites]

Have either of you read the book Gift of Fear? Get it on Kindle and read the sections about stalking.

She needs to move and change her number and go dark on social media ASAP; turn off all location indicators, stop putting up information about when and where she's going. Yes, she should keep the old phone and old number and keep the old social media accounts so he thinks he is getting through to her. She should not reply to any of these attempts to contact her. If she replies after 50 messages, even to say "leave me alone" all he learns is "ok, i have to send 51 messages to get the outcome I want."

Meanwhile she finds a new place to live, she has her mail redirected to another address, she files a police report immediately describing the ongoing harassment that has happened, which will in an arrest and a restraining order.

Another thing to consider - she can get into this program after she gets a new address:
It is designed to protect victims of stalking and domestic violence by masking their true address when they interact with government agencies; they will have a false address of record for her and privately forward official mail to her somewhere else. This is useful for DMV, voter registration, property tax or income tax papers, food stamps, medicaid, etc. A lot of stalkers find out where people end have moved just by looking at property tax records or at voter registration rolls.

Perhaps most importantly, she needs to communicate very clearly to her family and friends and coworkers and neighbors that they should never give this man any information about her. The correct response to any contact from him is deflection: "ok, sure, I'll let her know that you are looking for her/want her to call/etc.," followed by getting the fuck out of there, getting physically away or hanging up the phone, giving no indication where she is. Stalkers are great at social engineering: getting clueless or simply well meaning acquaintances to talk about the target using a pretense that seems reasonable and polite. Think of where she spends time: neighbors, church, school, local bar or pub, gym, work, etc. Think about where does she go regularly where people know her and might not know the situation with him? And warn those people.

If he knows where she works, her colleagues and the people in her work building need to know who he is, what he looks like, and what to do if he shows up there unexpectedly. She needs to tell them what is going on, especially if she works regular and predictable hours or in an non-secure setting like a customer service job.

I echo the comment above about seeking legal advice before talking about it at work. This will help ensure that the employer knows what their obligations are under state and federal law when it comes to accommodating victims of domestic violence and stalking.

If she covers the social media blackout and prevention of social engineering steps thoroughly, and he is still finding her, she should have her computer and phone checked for surveillance or key-logging software, followed by erasing and reformatting devices if necessary. She should also have her vehicle checked for a tracking device or GPS device.

I know this sounds insane, but let me tell you, these tools are available to anyone now, it can be as simple as clicking through a few pages on amazon to get a GPS tracker for a car that is quite easy to use. and their *biggest fans* are the abusive and stalkers (in addition to insurance fraud investigators, I guess.)

Good on you for helping to see her through this. a restraining order alone won't keep her safe but it's a step in a good safety plan. she will benefit a lot from having someone on her side who understands the unique stress of this experience.
posted by zdravo at 9:27 PM on January 6, 2017 [5 favorites]

Please do help her get in touch with a domestic violence organization. They are amazing in helping to support people through the legalities like obtaining a restraining order, but can also help with additional education about steps to take to prottect her safety and can also provide support/counseling to manage the emotional fallout of a relationship like this. SafeLink is the central intake for the state of MA, and they will direct you to appropriate resources in your area (877) 785-2020. If she is near Boston, Casa Myrna is a great resource.
posted by goggie at 9:13 AM on January 7, 2017

> If she replies after 50 messages, even to say "leave me alone" all he learns is "ok, i have to send 51 messages to get the outcome I want."

I can't stress this enough. She needs to make no responses of any kind to this dirtbag.

However, going dark on social media is something I would skip. I would be very careful to not post any details of my activities or locations, but if I normally shared the odd cartoon on FB, pinned the odd recipe on Pinterest, and sent out the odd snarky Tweet about politics, I would keep on with those things. Suddenly going silent can easily be construed as a response to him and his actions. My social media activity would be extremely bland, but it would also be public. I did find it helpful to throw out tiny titbits like that -- it gives one's stalker something to chew on and makes them less desperate to resort to aggressive means to get "updates" on their prey. (At one point I spun a totally BS story about myself in bits and pieces online with no attempt to hide them and was very amused when I found my stalker repeating this as fact and trying to be intimidating: see how much I know about you! with it. This was part of a PTSD-inducing saga that spanned years, though; I don't recommend taunting him as a first move... I mostly wanted to find out how obsessed he still was, and, well, got that information.)

Plus, it (boring public social media whatnot) gives him something to obsess over, some imaginary contact, and some distraction, while the real things (moving, et cetera) are going on behind the scenes. You don't want him wondering why she's suddenly quiet and being encouraged to make another visit to her house to check it out (perhaps she is being distracted by a new man! perhaps she has gone on vacation!) -- she should continue the outward appearance of normal life while busy re-routing her real life behind the scenes. The more she can make it look like nothing has changed, the better. Eventually she may want to make new accounts under a fake name while, if he is still a problem, occasionally updating the old ones -- simply so he is not encouraged to go digging for the fake ones.

I have found DV hotlines to be pretty useless. They are probably great if you are completely free of resources -- about to be homeless, not able to find a lawyer/figure out how to communicate with the courts, want to find local group counselling -- but pretty much everything they have to offer for many is stuff easily Googled. I also found them patronizing (no, we can't send you information via e-mail because what if he is looking at your e-mail! as though it was a good time to further reduce my agency) and toothless (you are having trouble with getting the restraining order enforced? Um...wow, okay, that's new to me. Call back and... [I have called over and over and asked to speak to various supervisors] Oh... I'm not really sure what to tell you). I also found a tendency to offer a lot of one-size-fits-all advice, even though these things can really vary from one abusive shit to the next. I have been through this extensively twice and both times the hotlines just left me more frustrated than anything else, and if you can figure out how to access an attorney or find the office that helps the attorney-free, deal with the police, Google "safety plan," and have a place to stay -- there's nothing there except some feel-good platitudes, which your friend may find painfully infantilizing right now.

In re. GPS trackers: a healthy, calm amount of paranoia can be a useful thing to have. I actually had a P.I. sent after me. One of the more useful bits of how-to-calm-down advice I got from a therapist I saw at the time was: he's writing a book in his head; you're a character in it, but it has little to nothing to do with reality or with you. He's acting out fantasies from a script he's imagining in his head, in which a fictional version of you exists. (This is a help if the ex starts telling mutual acquaintances straight-up bullshit about the victim, which is pretty common.)

While they can be a bit of weak tea, if they're going to be in the same community, she may find a restraining order reassuring. Without one you have difficulty explaining the situation to police, and there is nothing wrong with (as one dirtball did) chasing you around the city, hopping on and off the same buses as you until you fetch up at your attorney's office. Dude is in the same supermarket as you? Call 911, have him removed, finish your grocery shopping -- there's some relief in having that option. But only she can decide (and I would be wary of individuals or write-ups that are coercive in either direction there, with an exception made for an experienced attorney or other professional who has heard the details about her personal experiences to date).
posted by kmennie at 10:09 AM on January 7, 2017 [1 favorite]

Thank you all so, so much. I'm forwarding all of this information to her. She's welcome to live with me but I live across the country, so yeah.... not an option for her, unfortunately. The only experience I have with this is what I've witnessed/lived through but was too young to do anything about it. I have no experience as an adult, and your advice really helps. Thank you again.
posted by onecircleaday at 12:34 PM on January 10, 2017

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