Created by FindLaw's team of legal writers and editors | Last reviewed December 16, 2021
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Domestic violence used to be a secret to be “kept in the family" or swept under the rug. But it's now more prevalent in news and media than ever before. As a result, a lot of people are thinking about what constitutes domestic violence. Why do people stay in abusive relationships? How can family and friends help a loved one leave an abusive partner?
This Domestic Violence section provides resources for victims of domestic abuse and those who love them. If you need immediate help, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).
Findlaw's Domestic Violence section is divided into four parts.
- An overview of domestic violence: These articles define the different types of abuse and how to recognize signs of abuse. There are articles that explain battered women's syndrome and why some victims recant after finally speaking out. It also provides the history of legal intervention.
- Domestic violence laws: These articles cover the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), the Domestic Violence Offender Gun Ban, and state domestic violence laws.
- How to stop domestic violence: These articles can help victims file for a restraining order and file a domestic violence lawsuit. They explain who is a mandatory reporter and who you can turn to for help. You will also find a guide to stop domestic violence.
- Domestic violence resources: In this section you will find a list of domestic violence organizations and hotlines. At the state level, this listing includes domestic violence programs and state forms to file for a protective order.
Domestic Violence, Legally Defined
Domestic abuse is a top public health concern. Homicide by an intimate partner is one of the leading pregnancy-associated causes of death, according to research. And yet many people do not understand the scope of abusive behavior. Early in their intimate relationship, victims may not realize they are experiencing domestic violence. They fail to take action and then it escalates.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline defines domestic abuse as "a pattern of abusive behaviors used by one person to gain or maintain control over another person in an intimate relationship."
The victim is often a spouse (male or female). But they can also be a dating partner, a child or parent, a family member, or a roommate. It is a person with whom the abuser is in close proximity.
Most people think of domestic abuse as battering or assault, but there are several types of abuse:
- Physical abuse is most likely to be seen by coworkers or health care providers. Victims often find ways to hide the evidence of the abuser's violent behavior. But physical violence can lead to physical injury requiring medical care.
- Sexual abuse may not be understood by the victim as abuse until it becomes sexual violence. Non-consensual sex, even within marriage, is sexual assault. Young people, in particular, need to be educated about dating violence.
- Emotional abuse causes the victim to feel intense emotional distress. The abuser may verbally demean and socially humiliate their victim. They may engage in name-calling. Emotional abuse damages the victim's self-esteem and sense of self-worth. Stalking, harassment, and threats are forms of emotional abuse; They are designed to instill fear in the victim.
- Psychological abuse is controlling behavior that damages the victim's mental health. They may think they are going crazy. They may develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
- Economic abuse or financial abuse is an extension of the abuser's need for control. They may prevent a spouse from earning money or from having access to money. An abuser may steal money from an elder parent with whom they live.
Punishing Domestic Violence
While law enforcement once turned a blind eye to intimate partner violence, state laws now require an arrest and mandate penalties. Restraining orders are easier to get, at least initially. And federal and state laws are in place to prevent abusers from owning guns.
Survivors of domestic violence can sue their abusers in civil court to recover damages for their injuries.
Unfortunately, these remedies are only available after the abusive behavior or physical violence has already occurred.
Preventing Domestic Violence
Nationally, there is a loud call to end domestic violence.
Domestic abuse nonprofits and governmental agencies exist in every state. They provide information and training on how to identify the warning signs of abuse. They provide practical resources to help survivors of domestic violence create a safety plan to exit dangerous relationships. They provide referrals for safe places to shelter and offer victim hotlines in a variety of languages. And they undertake legal advocacy.
Help is a phone call away. But as many victims know, that phone call and those first steps can be extremely dangerous. Their lives are often at stake. If the U.S. wants to end the scourge of family violence, it needs to provide human services resources and physical and financial support to help victims break free once and for all.
Legal Help for Victims of Crime
If you feel unsafe in your home or relationship, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or call 911. An experienced family law attorney can assist you with everything from talking to the police to filing for protective orders and a civil lawsuit.
You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help
Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.