Understanding Domestic Violence or Abuse | What Constitutes Domestic Violence? | What Are the Consequences of a Domestic Violence Conviction?
According to statistics gathered by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), approximately 20 people are physically subjected to abuse by an intimate partner every single minute somewhere in the United States—that’s more than 10 million victims every year. Even though every state has laws prohibiting and punishing acts of domestic violence, it remains at epidemic proportions.
What Is Domestic Violence?
Generally speaking, domestic violence (also known as domestic abuse) involves intentionally harmful acts committed by one household member against another. The victim may be a spouse, intimate partner, child, or other family member, such as an aged or disabled parent or sibling. Domestic violence is not restricted to acts of physical harm; it also includes attempts to intimidate, threaten, or cause emotional or mental distress.
Though more commonly perpetrated by men on women, the genders of aggressor and victim are generally irrelevant under the law. Domestic violence can involve gay spouses or partners and female abuse of a male partners or others in the household. Though most instances of domestic violence include repeated acts of abuse—so-called “cycles of violence”—a single incident is usually sufficient to give rise to criminal charges.
Is Domestic Violence a Crime?
As a general rule, domestic violence is a crime. As of 2019, however, only 38 states had specific domestic violence laws. Other states use broader criminal statutes, such as those governing simple or aggravated assault, to prosecute individuals charged with violence against household members. Whether an act of domestic violence is charged as a felony or misdemeanor typically depends on the severity of the attack or injuries, whether a restraining or protective order was already in force, and, in some states, whether a minor was present during the abuse.
What Constitutes Domestic Violence or Abuse?
A wide range of behaviors are considered to be domestic abuse:
- Acts of physical violence, such as hitting, slapping, pinching, punching, kicking, biting, or shoving; this includes using an object (such as a gun or frying pan) to inflict physical harm
- Acts of intimidation or threats
- Emotional or mental abuse, including berating and using words or actions that diminish or negate a person’s sense of value or self-esteem
- Sexual violence or abuse, including forced intercourse or unwanted sexual contact, touching, or fondling
- Economic abuse, including denying the victim the necessary financial resources to meet their daily needs for food, shelter, or sustenance, or intentionally making a person financially reliant on the perpetrator
What Are the Consequences of a Charge or Conviction for Domestic Violence?
There are generally two types of sanctions applied in cases involving allegations of domestic violence: criminal penalties and restraining or protective orders. Because domestic violence is governed by state statutes, the specific penalties for conviction vary from state to state. In addition, the potential fines and/or jail sentences depend on whether the crime charged is a felony or misdemeanor. As a general rule, if the domestic violence or assault charge is a misdemeanor, the length of incarceration, if any, will be less than a year. If a defendant in a domestic violence or assault case is convicted of felony charges, the penalties can include a prison term in excess of one year.
It’s common, in the aftermath of an allegation, charge, or conviction of domestic violence for the victim to ask a court to issue a restraining or protective order. The court can issue such an order, at the judge’s discretion, if sufficient evidence is produced to convince the court that the order is necessary to minimize the risk of further acts of domestic violence or abuse. As a general rule, a protective order remains in place until lifted by the court. Judges have a certain amount of latitude in issuing a protective order, but generally it sets forth terms of access or contact between the parties. Most protective orders prohibit certain types of communications—phone, email, letters, gifts, etc.—and usually require that the defendant stay away from the victim’s home, place of employment, and other regular habitats.