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Abuse can come in many different forms. According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline (NDVH), almost 20 people are physically abused in the United States each minute. Sadly, many of these cases of domestic violence begin with verbal abuse, which can have a lasting impact on a victim.

In Pennsylvania, victims of verbal abuse can seek protection under the law. If granted, a Protection From Abuse (PFA) order prevents any contact between a victim and an abuser. While victims normally request a PFA order for situations of physical abuse, a PFA order can protect someone from verbal abuse as well. A judge will award a PFA order for verbal abuse if the words would cause a person “reasonable fear of imminent serious bodily injury.”

Courts will look at a variety of factors to determine if it is reasonable for a person to believe serious bodily injury will occur, including:

  • The nature of the communications 
  • Whether the abuser has a history of violence.
  • What provoked the situation.
  • The context of what was said.

A victim must file a petition to obtain a PFA order. If a judge determines a temporary order is necessary based on the victim’s account, a hearing for a final order will occur 10 days later. At the hearing both the victim and the abuser can offer testimony and evidence to prove their side of the story. If a judge orders a PFA, it can prohibit the abuser from contacting the victim for up to three years.

If a victim needs immediate protection and the courts are closed, he or she can seek an emergency order for protection. In this case, a victim will call the police and the police will connect him or her to an on-call judge. This judge can grant an emergency order for protection that will be put in place temporarily pending a full hearing. Once a PFA order is in place, anyone who violates it can face serious criminal penalties.

Verbal abuse can be just as serious as physical abuse. If you or someone you love is a victim of verbal or physical abuse, a PFA order can help you get the protection you deserve.