Why does York County have so many protection from abuse orders?

Brandon Addeo
York Dispatch

Protection order filings in York County spiked during 2020 as many people were forced to stay at home during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

There were 1,521 new protection from abuse   petitions filed in York County last year,  a roughly 37% increase over 2019, which had 1,112, according to data from the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts. That's about 400 more cases filed annually than in any of the 10 preceding years. 

Domestic violence victims can file a PFA against their abuser, which prevents the abuser from contacting the victim or the victim's children.

If granted, the PFA petition starts as a 10-day temporary order before a final hearing is held. At the final hearing, a judge can grant or deny a final PFA order lasting up to three years. 

More:Domestic violence screening expands rapidly through Pa.

Impact of COVID: The COVID-19 pandemic and stay-at-home orders played a role in worsening domestic abuse, according to local advocates at YWCA York

"The stay-at-home order definitely increased tensions within the household and exacerbated abusive behaviors," said Tallie Van Vuren, YWCA York's legal advocacy director. "With that being said, however, the underlying properties that causes one to be abusive were already present prior to the COVID pandemic."

This chart lists the different types of protection from abuse orders that can be granted by Pennsylvania judges.

Van Vuren said that   neither the pandemic nor any stay-at-home orders can be blamed for abusive behavior, but it did have an impact on abuse victims. 

"What we can assume is that COVID and the stay-at-home order caused is the intensified feeling of a victim who feels trapped," she said. "Many victims were able to get a break from the abuse they were experiencing by leaving the house or by going to work. For many people, those freedoms were no longer an option due to the stay-at-home order."

Petitions versus orders: While there were significantly more PFA petitions filed in 2020, only a fraction of those 1,521 petitions had a final order granted by a judge. 

The vast majority of PFAs filed in York County last year were dropped before a judge had a chance to give a final ruling, according to state data.

Records show that  464 cases were dropped because the petitioner did not appear for their scheduled court hearing. In 348 cases, the petitioner and alleged abuser reached an agreement in lieu of pursuing a protection order. And in 314 cases, the petitioner voluntarily withdrew the  petition. 

Only 326 cases had an evidentiary hearing before a judge that resulted in a final decision. York County judges granted 180 petitions and denied 146.

Those statistics don't include temporary PFAs, which were approved at a much higher rate. Out of 1,089 temporary PFA petitions, 838, or 77%, were granted. 

Against a state trend: York County's spike is opposite a statewide trend in 2020, where overall PFA filings dropped by 11% from 2019. 

York County was tied for third with four other Pennsylvania counties for the most protection from abuse cases filed in 2020.

According to state data, 34,678 petitions were filed statewide in 2020, down from 39,132 in 2019. 

York County's new PFA filings in 2020 represented 4% of the state's total PFA filings, tied for third-most with four other   counties: Luzerne, Montgomery, Berks and Lehigh. Philadelphia County had the most filings, and Allegheny County had the second-highest number of filings. 

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— Reach Brandon Addeo at baddeo@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @BrandonAddeo.