Domestic Violence FAQ

Domestic violence often goes unreported and unnoticed. Domestic violence is a serious offense that can leave emotional (as well as physical) scars that last a lifetime.

A person's home should be a safe space, defined by the love and support of family members. But sadly, home is a place of fear and violence for many. 

The following are answers to frequently asked questions about domestic violence:

Q: What is domestic violence?

A: Domestic violence, or family violence, can occur in a single incident. However, domestic violence usually takes place in a pattern of abusive behavior in a relationship. It is most often used by one intimate partner to exert control over another intimate partner. State definitions of domestic violence and who represents a qualifying household member may vary. Therefore, a qualifying household member may include a current or former spouse, current or former live-in partner, sibling, child, or other relative. Domestic violence can take many forms, including:

  • Physical abuse (physical harm or threats of physical harm)
  • Sexual abuse
  • Emotional abuse
  • Economic abuse
  • Psychological abuse
  • Stalking (in person, unwanted phone calls, harassment)
  • Cyberstalking (email, text messages, social media)

Q: What can I do to stop an abuser?

A: You can pursue a criminal domestic violence charge and cooperate with police and prosecutors. This way, your abuser is held accountable for the violence. You can also seek a protection order or restraining order during the criminal case. Domestic violence cases can be classified as a misdemeanor or a felony based on the circumstances of the case and state law. Misdemeanors usually subject an offender to possible local jail time. Felonies can subject an offender to time in state prison. For example, in Ohio, a prior criminal record of domestic violence by the offender will enhance the offense to a felony and expose the offender to a state prison sentence. In a criminal case, the state brings the criminal charges and the offender is called the defendant. The state is represented by the prosecutor. The criminal defense attorney represents the defendant.

You can also go to civil court and request a protection or restraining order, which requires your abuser to stay a certain number of feet away from you, your home, your school, your work, and your car. This might not immediately restrain an abuser from stalking or hurting you, but it does allow you to call upon law enforcement authorities to have the abuser arrested if he or she breaks the restraining or protection order and comes near you. You may also address other matters in the court order such as exclusive residence use, custody and parenting time for children, and child support. In civil court, you file as the petitioner and the offender is called the respondent.

You can obtain a restraining order by filing the required legal papers with your local court. You should note that the term "restraining order" and "order of protection" may be used interchangeably in this article. Some states identify this as a Civil Protection Order (CPO). You will need to follow your specific state law requirements for requesting an "ex parte" protection order hearing. This is a hearing without the other party present. If the court grants the protection or restraining order, you will then serve the abuser with a copy of the order. The court will schedule a full hearing later with notice to both parties. The court normally will assign service of the order to the police or another law enforcement agency. A Civil Protection Order may extend for years, beyond the life of the criminal case.

Q: How do I know that I am in an abusive relationship?

A: Many behaviors may occur in a relationship involving domestic abuse. Common conduct includes:

  • Jealous and controlling behavior
  • Minimization of harm or responsibility for domestic violence incidents
  • Verbal abuse, including insults and put-downs
  • Control over finances (victim needs permission to get money)
  • Isolation (abuser controls the victim's schedule and interactions with others)

Q: Where can I get help if I'm a victim of domestic violence?

A: Many organizations can assist you. During a domestic violence incident or immediately thereafter, you should call 911 or the local police department. Local non-profit domestic violence agencies may have counseling and shelter that you can find through the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). They may also assist you with safety planning so that you can avoid further abuse. You may contact a local legal aid agency that can help with protection or restraining orders. You may also seek legal advice from a family law attorney. You may contact your doctor, local hospital, or clergy.

Q: Do I have to report domestic violence?

A: No, unless you're a mandated reporter, which is a person who is required to report child or certain adult abuse because of their profession. Doctors, nurses, teachers, lawyers, and daycare providers are often mandated reporters. You should check the law in your state to learn whether you're considered a mandatory reporter. In some states, such as Texas, everyone must report child abuse.

If the victim is under 18 years old, child abuse mandatory reporting laws apply. If you are a mandated reporter and the victim of domestic violence is a child, you must report.

If you're a victim of domestic violence, you don't have to report what happened to you. However, it's probably in your best interests to do so. In addition, you may want to report domestic abuse once you're able to leave the relationship. On average, it takes a survivor seven attempts to leave an abusive relationship permanently, so don't be discouraged if you've tried leaving but returned.

Q: Can I file a domestic violence lawsuit against my abuser?

A: Yes. As a victim of domestic violence, you can sue the person you have accused of domestic violence for your injuries in civil court, even if you've gone through criminal proceedings and lost. Some states may still provide restrictions when suing a family member for assault, battery, or other torts. Make sure you check the laws of your state regarding such lawsuits.

All states have statutes of limitations (time limits) for filing claims, so you should seek legal advice as soon as possible.

Q: Can men be victims of domestic violence?

A: Absolutely. Anyone can be a victim of domestic violence, including men. Men, women, children, teens, and people of every race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, and socioeconomic background can be victims of domestic violence. Domestic violence laws apply equally to all persons. However, the specific terms defining a qualifying household member (e.g. spouse, live-in partner, etc.) may vary from state to state.

Q: Where can I get help as a victim of sexual abuse?

A: First, you must decide which people you're comfortable with telling what happened. Then, you have to decide whether you want to pursue legal action, including criminal charges or a civil lawsuit. If you want to talk about what happened, even if it was many years ago, call the national sexual assault hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673) to talk or seek counseling in your area.

Contact an Attorney for Help With Domestic Violence

If you're the victim of domestic violence, you may need legal help to protect yourself and your loved ones. You may also need help to pursue civil actions against your abuser. Time is of the essence, and the law can be quite complex. So, you may want to contact a qualified domestic violence attorney for help.

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Can I Solve This on My Own or Do I Need an Attorney?

  • Victims of domestic violence can press charges against their abuser
  • The ability or requirements to press charges varies in each state
  • Contacting a family law attorney or advocacy groups for advice is essential

Some attorneys represent victims of domestic violence. Others defend the rights of those accused of domestic abuse or other related crimes. Many attorneys offer free consultations.

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