Great Britain

Amie Harwick death: Restraining orders falling short of protecting victims, experts warn

Amie Harwick's death has proven more can be done to strengthen restraining orders when they're protecting the victim from their abuser, experts say. 

The Hollywood therapist and ex-fiancee of comedian Drew Carey was murdered in her Hollywood Hills apartment during the early hours after Valentine's Day, according to the Los Angeles Police Department. 

At the time, Dr Harwick had an expired restraining order against ex-boyfriend Gareth Pursehouse, 41, who was arrested on Saturday afternoon in connection with her murder. She previously filed the restraining order after expressing fear to police about him. 

Download the new Independent Premium app

Sharing the full story, not just the headlines

Mike Davis, a retired sergeant with the Vancouver Police Department in Washington and a member of the cadre of experts for End Violence Against Women International, said that while he was in favour of restraining orders, he acknowledged there is still room for growth to better protect the victim from their abuser. 

"Nationally most orders are violated at some point," Mr Davis said. "Protective orders can be helpful if it's accompanied by a safety plan."

These safety plans help the victim determine what areas of their life to alter, such as protection at home or in the workplace, to help them feel safe. But it can also cause an upheaval of one's life for them to feel secure, Mr Davis said. 

"Every case is different ... each safety plan has to be unique to that victim's needs. But in order to have an effective safety plan, you're disrupting your life," he added. 

Dr Harwick had an expired order against her ex-boyfriend (Good Morning LALA Land)

Mr Davis believes the legal avenue is a good first step for a victim if they are made to feel unsafe by someone, but he advocates improvements after the restraining order is filed. 

"We, upon the application of the order, have got to provide proper support services for the victims and safety planning," he said. 

For instance, Washington state legistators are currently trying to pass a law that would force abusers to carry an electronic tracker that would alert the victim if they are near by. States including Illinois and Maryland have passed similar laws in recent years.  

Dr Harwick's restraining order against her ex-boyfriend had expired, police said, and it remains unclear if she attempted to renew it, as she had seen Mr Purehouse in recent weeks. 

Laws can vary state by state for what is required when extending a restraining order. For some states, it's required for the victim to prove new threats of violence have occurred against them. 

"Usually, you have to have some recent threat that still occurs," said Maureen Curtis, vice president of criminal justice programs at Safe Horizon. "New York state, a few years back, passed a law that enabled survivors to go back into court without a new incidence [of violence] occurring."

This push to change the law in New York came from advocates who wanted to further protect the survivors from their abusers. But the New York rule for extending a restraining order is not reflected in every state across the US. 

Even with this caveat, Ms Curtis said she advocated for victims getting restraining orders if they feel it will help protect them. 

"People talk about how orders of protection are no good," she said. "What we don't hear about are the thousands of survivors who are helped by a petition for protection." 

Victims of abuse in the United States can call the The National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 to access safety from their abusive relationships.