Every state has laws and processes set up to protect victims of domestic violence or abuse. These laws may protect unmarried partners, ex-spouses and children.
Though most often manifested as violence between spouses or partners in a relationship, domestic violence or abuse, for legal purposes, can involve anyone in a close family or social relationship. Many states define domestic violence to include parties who are married, living together or merely dating. Domestic violence is not limited by sexual orientation, and need not involve an intimate relationship. In most jurisdictions, domestic abuse may include:
- Physical abuse, including pushing, slapping, hitting, or simply restraining someone against their will
- Forcing someone to engage in non-consensual sex
- Threats of violence or abuse, or the infliction of pain, injury or illness
- All forms of stalking, from physically following a person to repeatedly calling, e-mailing or sending card, notes, letters or gifts
- Psychological abuse
In short, domestic violence is often identified as any physical act or threat of physical act that would cause a reasonable person to fear for his or her safety.
Where to Seek Help
In the case of a domestic violence emergency, you need to first contact the police for immediate assistance. Police are taking domestic abuse more diligently than in the past and have increased training to help officers protect and serve victims of abuse.
Hospitals, social service agencies and domestic violence shelters can offer outreach programs for victims. Search online or in your local phone book to contact the right organization. A state’s local or district attorney may be able to offer assistance in a domestic abuse case. If a victim is working in conjunction with a divorce attorney, the attorney can offer assistance or counsel to assist in ceasing further abuse.
The Protection Available to Victims of Domestic Violence
In every state, a victim of domestic violence may report any act or threat of violence to law enforcement officers and may seek a court order preventing the perpetrator from engaging in acts of violence. Known in different jurisdictions as a temporary restraining order (TRO) or a protective order, the order typically prevents the abuser from having any contact whatsoever with the victim, and may state that the abuser cannot be within a certain distance of the victim at any time. If the perpetrator violates the terms of the protective order, it is considered contempt of court, and the violator is subject to arrest and substantial fines.