Judge Fines Women for Violating Restraining Orders They Asked For

Kentucky Judge Megan Lake Thornton is drawing the ire of some domestic violence activists by issuing contempt of court citations to women who obtain restraining orders against their partners and then return to the men who were allegedly abusing them.

Thornton told the Lexington Herald-Leader that she was tired of seeing women come before the court and receive a preliminary restraining order, only to learn that the women had returned to the men named in the restraining order before a follow-up hearing which normally occurs two weeks later. Thornton said,

In my experience on the bench, I have found that there has been a number of petitioners who have chosen to come and get an order, and then ignore the order. I think that both parties are obligated to follow through with the order. You can’t have it both ways.

Domestic violence activist Sherry Currens said that this policy may discourage women from seeking help. “The risk here is that women will be discouraged from asking for an order if they think it can get them into trouble later, or if they think a judge is going to chastise them in a courtroom,” Currens said.

But the bottom line is this — if a man is going to be punished for violating a restraining order when a woman voluntarily returns (and Judge Thornton also cited the men in each of these cases for contempt of court as well), it only makes sense to cite the women as well. Otherwise this creates the bizarre legal outcome that if there is a restraining order barring two people from having contact, and those people nonetheless consent to be in each other’s company, that only one is committing a crime.

There have been a number of egregious examples where this has happened, including a man who was arrested at his own wedding for violating a restraining order against his fiance, although no action was taken against the fiance. In other cases, individuals with restraining orders have used trickery to cause the person named in a restraining order to come into their presence and then call police (for example, when a woman might call up the individual named in the restraining order, ask him to come to clear out his things from her apartment, and arrange to have police waiting to arrest the man for violating the restraining order — which has actually happened).

There is some speculation in the Herald Leader about whether or not a restraining order in fact does apply to both parties, but whether or not it currently does, it most assuredly should or otherwise it creates a severe imbalance that is likely to be exploited and abused.


Judge fines women who return to their alleged abusers. John Cheves, Lexington Herald-Leader, January 3, 2002.

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