Hocus-Pocus: More on False Restraining Orders and the Five Magic Words

Posted on October 30, 2014

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Some recent posts on this blog have touched on what might be called the five magic words, because their utterance may be all that’s required of a petitioner to obtain a restraining order. The five magic words are these: “I’m afraid for my life.”

Cops, it’s even reported, tell women whom they goad to get restraining orders that they should recite this magical phrase to the judge (wink, wink)—and some of these women complain later that they felt forced onto a course that they regretted pursuing but weren’t permitted to correct.

(Notably, billions in federal tax dollars have been invested under the Violence Against Women Act in so-called STOP grants—“Services and Training for Officers and Prosecutors”—as well as in grants to encourage arrests, according to which VAWA grants police officers have essentially been instructed to promote restraining orders.)

The I’m-afraid-for-my-life enchantment has variant forms. This writer’s accuser, who had for months nightly hung around outside of his residence alone in the dark, used this one: “Will I be attacked?”

The abbreviated version, “I’m afraid,” can even suffice. What’s more, judges in some jurisdictions may cue a restraining order applicant to say it, because they’re not authorized to issue the requested injunction unless s/he does (e.g., “I can only issue a restraining order if you tell me you’re afraid of [him or her]. I’m going to ask you one more time: Are you afraid?”).

Gamesmanship in this arena is both bottom-up and top-down. Liars hustle judges…and judges hustle liars along.

Claims of fear are seldom unaccompanied by specific for-instances (sometimes real, sometimes not), but typically if it weren’t for the magic words’ coloring the for-instances, they would signify little by themselves.

(A California man employed as a little league umpire, for example, had a restraining order petitioned against him this year by his sister-in-law. She alleged that looks the man had cast in his nephew’s direction—while the boy was playing baseball, and the man was in the park to perform his job—caused his nephew grave emotional upset. She also cited an incident when she said her brother-in-law had aggressively honked and waved at her and her son from his car. The so-called relevant facts were only made sinister by their reporter’s alleged apprehension.)

Words aren’t magical, and allegations of fear aren’t facts. In procedures as brief and superficial as those mandated by restraining order laws, even facts aren’t facts. They’re often just innuendo upon which foundation a judge is urged and authorized to erect an outhouse.

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