The definition of " domestic violence" varies depending on the state or U.S. territory, but the term generally refers to striking, stalking, harassing, annoying, and other similar actions taken by one person against their spouse, partner, or blood relative.
What to do when you are a victim of domestic violence
Take the following steps if you are a victim of domestic violence:
1.Get a restraining order.
A restraining order is a court order requiring the abuser to stay away from your home, vehicle, work, and close relatives. If you have a restraining order, your abuser cannot contact you, directly or indirectly. If you live with the abuser, he or she may also be ordered to move out immediately. Any time a restraining order is granted, the restrained person typically cannot possess weapons or firearms and may also be ordered into anger management or similar domestic violence programs. Restraining order violations are criminal offenses and can subject the violator to prison time for each violation. Although you don't have to hire an attorney to get a restraining order, it can be very helpful to have a lawyer's help during this process. If you cannot afford an attorney, most cities and counties have free services that can help you obtain a restraining order for little or no cost. To find one of these organizations, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at (800) 799-SAFE (7233).
2.Move to a safer location unknown to the abuser (if feasible).
Although a restraining order is a powerful tool when seeking the aid of law enforcement, it will not necessarily keep you safe. If you can move to a safer location with friends or relatives, the abuser will be less likely to contact you.
3.Take safety precautions
You can also take other minor precautions, such as taking a self-defense class and carrying a cell phone, mace, personal alarms, and any other lawful self-defense devices. When possible, travel with a companion, especially at night or at times when you may be vulnerable to attack. Other precautions can be taken, such as ensuring that you have good window locks, deadbolts, and home alarm systems.
What are the consequences of domestic violence?
Although a victim of domestic violence can initiate criminal charges, in most jurisdictions, if the authorities are alerted to a possible domestic violence situation, they can press charges on behalf of the victim, regardless of whether the victim wishes to pursue criminal charges. Once criminal charges are initiated, law enforcement and prosecutors typically will not drop the charges at the victim's request. There have been horror stories in which the prosecutor did not follow through with the charges and restraining orders on the advice of the victim, and the victim was later killed.
Depending on the severity of the domestic violence act, the abuser can face charges that range from a simple misdemeanor to attempted murder, and receive sentences that range from probation to life in prison.
Domestic violence jurisdiction
In many jurisdictions, domestic violence falls under the jurisdiction of family courts because the abuser and victim are dating, married, or have a child together. Family courts often have discretion to issue restraining orders and other orders necessary to protect the victim and any children that the victim and abuser have in common.
If the abuser is convicted of domestic violence in a criminal court, or the family court finds that domestic violence has occurred, the finding can have a significant impact on the custody of the minor children of the victim and abuser, and any related visitation. The courts have discretion to give the domestic abuser far less time with the children and can place restrictions on the visitation, such as professional monitoring.
A victim of domestic violence can also file a lawsuit in civil court against the abuser under many legal theories, including assault, battery, stalking, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Some jurisdictions have a domestic violence statute that allows the victim to also recover attorneys' fees.
Where to go for help
Speak to friends and relatives who can help you relocate, secure your environment, and provide travel companionship to increase your safety. If you can afford an attorney, find one who specializes in domestic violence or restraining orders. If you cannot afford an attorney, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at (800) 799-SAFE (7233).
National Domestic Violence Hotline: (800) 799-SAFE (7233)
Related Legal Guides:
Domestic Violence Charges
The Basics of Domestic Violence
Domestic Violence Restraining Order
Domestic Violence against Men