Protection from Abuse

Be educated and informed on what the Protection From Abuse (PFA) Order.

Relationships that may qualify for a PFA:

  • A spouse or former spouse
  • A current or former sexual or intimate partner
  • A family member
  • A household member (who is related by blood or marriage)

Abuse is defined as:

  • Causing or attempting to cause bodily injury or sexual assault
  • Placing someone in fear of imminent serious bodily injury
  • Physically or sexually abusing a minor child
  • Interfering with an individual’s freedom of movement
  • Repeatedly committing acts, such as stalking, which place an individual in fear of bodily injury

Types of protection that can be granted in a PFA:

  • Direct the abuser not to abuse, threaten, harass or stalk you
  • Evict or exclude the abuser from your residence
  • Prohibit the abuser from contacting you
  • Grant you temporary custody of your minor children
  • Grant you temporary child/spousal support
  • Prohibit the abuser from having any guns or gun permits
  • Direct the abuser to attend a batterer’s counseling program
  • Direct the abuser to reimburse you for reasonable out-of-pocket expenses you incurred as a result of the abuse
  • Allow the Judge to grant any other relief deemed appropriate

How you can apply for a temporary PFA Order:

  • You can contact an attorney, or:
  • The Dauphin County Victim/Witness Assistance Program (VWAP) staff can help you file a “pro se” petition to the Court. This means that you are representing yourself, however, the VWAP staff can walk you through the necessary paperwork and process.

What you should know about the PRO SE process:

  • The VWAP is located at the Dauphin County Courthouse, Front and Market Streets, Harrisburg, PA.
  • This is a walk-in service. The earlier you arrive, the better.
  • Allow several hours to go through the process.
  • If you have a child/children and you must bring them with you to the Courthouse, please bring another adult to provide child care. Domestic violence issues will NOT be discussed in front of children.
  • When you arrive, a staff member of the VWAP will explain the process and provide the necessary forms for you to file a petition. Your petition will outline the incidents and allegations of abuse and it is your request to the Court for a temporary PFA order.
  • The staff member will then prepare a formal, computer generated petition for you to sign.
  • The petition will be reviewed by the Court. If there is enough evidence, the Judge will sign a temporary PFA order and a court date is set. The court hearing will give you the opportunity to further explain the situation.
  • If a temporary PFA order is granted, the VWAP staff cannot stop the process and you must attend the hearing even if you decide later that you are no longer in need of the PFA order.
  • If a temporary PFA order is not granted, the court may schedule a hearing for further review of the case.

The hearing process:

  • If the Court grants you a temporary PFA order, a hearing date is automatically set. You are required to attend this hearing.
  • Before the hearing, the defendant will be served with a copy of the petition, the temporary PFA order and the notice of hearing. The defendant is also required to attend this hearing.
  • It is your decision whether or not to obtain legal representation for the PFA hearing. Many petitioners choose to have legal representation and others choose to continue to represent themselves (pro se). See the next section to gather more information about legal representation. If you choose to represent yourself, a legal advocate from the YWCA may be available to help you the day of the hearing.
  • At the hearing, the Judge will decide whether or not a final PFA order should be granted. If there is enough evidence to warrant a final PFA order, it can remain in effect for up to 18 months.

Types of legal representation:

There are several types of legal representation available. If is entirely up to you to make arrangements for legal representation. It is important to remember that an attorney requires time to review your case. Do not wait until the day before your hearing to contact a lawyer. The following are different options you have when looking for legal help:

Private counsel

  • As a petitioner, it is your right to make arrangements for representation by contacting a private attorney. The cost of this service varies by attorney.

Mid Penn Legal Services

  • Mid Penn Legal Services provides legal representation in PFA matters free of charge. This service is offered to a limited number of people per court session. Therefore, it is necessary to make an appointment as soon as possible by calling (717) 232-0581 or 1-800-932-0356.

YWCA – Domestic Violence Legal Clinic

  • The YWCA Domestic Violence Legal Clinic offers legal representation. Appointments can be made by calling (717) 724-0516.

If the abuser violates the PFA order:

  • The police can arrest the abuser and charge him/her with indirect criminal contempt for violating the PFA.
  • A hearing will be scheduled in front of the Judge who issued the PFA to determine whether or not a violation occurred. Your testimony is needed at this hearing
  • If the Judge finds the abuser “guilty,” the abuser can be put in jail for up to six months and /or be fined up to $1,000.
  • If the evidence warrants criminal charges, in addition to the indirect criminal contempt charge, a preliminary hearing will be scheduled at a magisterial district justice’s office. Your testimony is necessary at this hearing.

To contact the Dauphin County Victim/Witness Assistance Program:
(717) 780-7077

After-hours emergency on-call worker can be reached by calling the digital pager at: (717)780-8052 (enter your telephone number after the beep)

Visit their website at to learn about PFA orders and other services provided by the Dauphin County Victim/Witness Assistance Program.