Murder opens debate about protection from abuse orders

Written by Ben Allen, General Assignment Reporter | Sep 14, 2015 2:37 PM

(Harrisburg) -- The murder of a midstate woman by her one-time boyfriend who was supposed to stay away from her is sparking a debate; some are now wondering if a protection from abuse order goes far enough.

In most cases, a PFA order bars an abuser from having any kind of contact with a victim, including phone, internet, and in-person.

But on Labor Day in Mount Gretna, Lebanon County, Patrick Derr disregarded the order and murdered Stacey Pennington outside her shop.

Still, Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence Executive Director Peg Dierkers says the orders usually make a difference.

Speaking on WITF's Smart Talk, Dierker says in recent years, at least 12,000 Pennsylvania women annually who received a final judgment on their request for a PFA order are kept safe from the abuser.

"And many more are helped even in the early stages. It allows the courts to really hold the abuser accountable," says Dierkers.

Judges can set other terms, she adds: "Here are some things that you're going to do to stop the behavior, to make reparations to the victim, and it gives the abuser a pause in which they can really think about their behavior and hopefully end the violence."

Dierkers says judges can order anger management classes or other therapies, and some have even tried GPS tracking for abusers.

But she says that comes with downsides - abusers may mess with the devices, and tracking is often reactive, not proactive.

She adds research shows people who pursue a protection from abuse order are better off a year later than those who don't.

The man who killed Stacey Pennington - Patrick Derr - had a history of violence against women, including three protection from abuse orders.

He killed himself after shooting Pennington.

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