The term domestic violence refers to a specific type of violence between adults in a close relationship, especially spouses. Domestic violence can be either physical or psychological. Psychological domestic violence include threats and degrading language.
In most states, domestic abuse includes any conduct that causes or threatens to cause injury between family members, spouses, and/or residents of the same household. Domestic violence can also be described as behavior used by one person in a relationship used to control the other person in the relationship. The behavior may happen all of the time, or only occasionally, either can constitute domestic violence.
Some specific examples of domestic violence include:
- Emotional abuse such as name calling or put downs;
- Preventing a partner from contacting their family or friends;
- Stopping a partner from obtaining or keeping a job;
- Actual or threatened physical harm;
- Stalking or intimidation;
- Harassment; and
- Economic and sexual abuse.
It is imperative that if you are facing a domestic violence emergency, and fear for your safety, that you contact 911 or your local police. Unfortunately domestic violence is a common occurrence, and emergency services are prepared to intervene. There are local domestic violence hotlines that provide assistance as well.
Additionally, domestic violence shelters exist to provide safety to those trying to leave a violent situation. However, such shelters generally only accept female victims and their children, meaning male victims of domestic violence may not receive the help they need.
How Can I Protect Myself from Domestic Violence?
First and foremost, it is not the victim’s responsibility to protect themselves from a violent person. It is the offender’s responsibility to avoid abusive behavior. That being said, if you are facing domestic abuse, there are some steps you can take to take care of yourself and prevent further harm from being inflicted. Some of these safety measures can include but are not limited to:
- Identify safe spaces both inside and outside of your home, in which you can call for help or escape to;
- If you are able, notify your friends and family that you are in danger and need immediate help;
- Compile and memorize a list of emergency contacts; and
- Consider obtaining a restraining or protective order.
A restraining order is sometimes referred to as a protective order in some states, and is a court order restricting one person from harming another. Restraining orders typically require the offending individual to do, or refrain from doing, a specific action. An example of this would be requiring the abuser to stay fifteen feet away from the victim, or cease all contact.
Such orders are typically easier to obtain if you have a police report. In most states, domestic violence calls have a mandatory arrest requirement. What this means is that if the police are called to a scene they must arrest at least one person involved in the dispute.
The police are to listen to each person’s account of the incident, document any injuries, and ultimately decide right then and there as to which person is the actual abuser or attacker. As they must arrest at least one person involved, it is important to be prepared and show any evidence you have about your abuser’s history of domestic violence.
Many people mistakenly believe that domestic violence laws only protect a wife from being physically assaulted by her husband. This is untrue; domestic violence laws have expanded to protect other groups of people. Such groups include but may not be limited to:
- Spouses of any gender;
- Significant others of any gender, such as boyfriends and girlfriends;
- Elders being abused by their family members; and
- Roommates abusing each other.
How are Domestic Violence Claims Handled?
There are three courts in which a domestic violence claim may be deliberated:
- Criminal Court: In a criminal court, the abuser is prosecuted by the state. The abuser would need to be arrested for the case to be tried in criminal court;
- Civil Court: A civil court would handle a lawsuit regarding protective order violations as well as money damages. If the abuser was not arrested, or if the victim was safely removed from the situation, the case may go directly to civil court where a restraining order may be obtained; and/or
- Divorce or Family Court: If the domestic violence has occurred in connection with child custody and visitation issues, a divorce or family court would likely resolve the claim. Many states allow divorce or family courts to handle domestic violence claims including restraining orders.
As previously mentioned, one of the first steps you should take if you are facing domestic violence is to contact your local state district attorney, or the police. They will provide you with guidance prior to a required court hearing, where you will have the burden of proving that you were abused or threatened with abuse. To obtain a protective order, you will generally go to court and they will issue an order signed by the judge in order to protect you from further domestic violence.
If the order is violated, then the abuser will likely face serious consequences. Violating an order is considered to be a separate crime, meaning the abuser will likely face charges for both their actions as well as the act of violating the order. The legal consequences of domestic violence on its own can include but are not limited to:
- Criminal penalties such as jail or prison time and a fine;
- Damages paid out to the victim;
- Rehabilitation courses;
- Revocation or suspension of custodial rights; and
- Loss of various other rights, such as the right to own a firearm.
Do I Need an Attorney for Domestic Violence Legal Claims?
If you are a victim of domestic violence, you should consult with a skilled and knowledgeable family attorney as soon as possible. An experienced family law attorney can inform you of your legal rights and remedies, as well as assist in obtaining a restraining order and a divorce or legal separation.
If you are being accused of domestic violence, a criminal defense attorney can help you defend yourself and understand your rights and options. Additionally, an experienced criminal defense attorney can represent you at any necessary court proceedings.