Stopping Domestic Violence

The U.S. Department of Justice defines domestic violence as "a pattern of abusive behavior in any intimate relationship that one partner uses to gain or maintain power and control over another partner or a former spouse."

Victims of domestic violence and their family members might feel stuck in a terrible situation. But you can take steps to stop domestic violence. You can begin by learning about domestic violence and how to spot it. Remember, domestic violence comes in many forms. It may appear as physical, sexual, emotional, psychological, or financial abuse.

Violence against women is a typical example of domestic violence. But anyone can be a victim of domestic abuse. Each state defines the conduct and the required relationships of domestic violence.

Domestic violence may result in psychological harm, physical injury, or even death. Research shows that domestic abuse often starts small. Then over time, it becomes more harmful.

Signs of Domestic Violence

Physical harm and sexual violence are not the only signs of abuse. Some of the most telling signs of an abusive relationship occur in victims' mental health. For instance, someone experiencing spousal abuse may experience helplessness, low self-esteem, and isolation. Victims may also experience financial abuse. Signs of financial abuse include withholding money or preventing a partner from working.

Domestic Violence Law and Prevention

Most cases of domestic violence occur in state courts. The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) represents the most prominent federal law addressing this issue. VAWA became law in 1994. This law created a special phone line called the National Domestic Violence Hotline for domestic violence victims. VAWA also provides local and state governments with resources to help stop domestic violence. The law also makes it a crime to travel between states and commit violence against a family member or to break a protective order. The federal Gun Control Act was also expanded when VAWA became a law. This law banned certain offenders convicted of domestic violence from possessing firearms.

The goal of VAWA is to protect victims suffering from the following types of abuse:

  • Physical abuse or physical violence
  • Sexual abuse or sexual assault
  • Psychological abuse
  • Emotional abuse
  • Elder abuse
  • Financial or economic abuse

Since the 1990s, many states strengthened their domestic violence laws. They have made it easier for police officers to arrest abusers in this situation. For instance, New York established mandatory arrests on domestic violence calls and provided other support. States have also funded groups that support domestic violence victims. These agencies provide shelter, safety planning, and enhanced victim services. They also assist victims in getting protection orders against their abusers. For example, California created a civil procedure to assist victims in acquiring orders of protection.


History of Police Responses

Police response to domestic violence evolved throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. Advocates sought women's equal rights and sought to ban child labor. These movements strengthened as women gained expanded legal rights during the 20th century. By the 1970s and 1980s, the Women's Liberation Movement raised awareness of the plight of domestic violence victims. The movement also highlighted the inadequate response of policing agencies. Efforts grew within the 50 states to pass laws against family violence and to enact arrest protocols for police officers. Advocates secured government funding for shelters and services to aid victims.

Historically, the police response to domestic violence calls was limited. It focused on separating the parties to end the violence. Criminal charges were not pursued except in the most serious cases of physical harm. As a result, offenders would leave for the night only to return to the household the next day. The abusive behaviors usually continued until a victim moved out or left the abuser. These policies often stemmed from a limited understanding and education on domestic violence. Law enforcement often assumed victims would often not show up in court or would recant the incident.

By the 1990s, more states began to pass laws requiring preferred or mandatory arrest in domestic violence cases. Now, every state has laws specific to domestic violence. At the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), VAWA and other efforts called for local police departments, prosecutors' offices, and victim service agencies to cooperate and share resources. DOJ provided funds for these new initiatives to improve police response. This increased the number of cases reaching court.

Police reforms have been the source of continued study and innovation. Such reforms improved responses to reports of domestic abuse. Some local jurisdictions even have agencies entirely dedicated to violence prevention. These agencies include a special victims' unit in the police department or the district attorney's office. These developments led to a change in perspective by both government and the public.

Domestic violence laws have expanded. Most jurisdictions have established programs to support and protect the victims. More often today, social service workers and law enforcement agencies work together to help stop domestic violence. Now, people view domestic abuse, intimate partner violence, and family violence differently. This is no longer seen as a "family matter." Today, communities focus on two goals: (1) provide advocacy to assist victims and (2) hold violent offenders accountable.

Orders of Protection and Restraining Orders

Today, orders of protection are available in each state. These court orders can provide victims of domestic abuse with immediate or long-term safety. Legal remedies may vary in every state. But some of the most common protections include:

Emergency or Criminal Protection Orders

Emergency or Criminal Protection Orders are short-term protective orders provided to a victim by the criminal court after police involvement and the filing of criminal charges. The court holds the hearing at or near the time of arraignment. Such orders typically remain valid for the life of the criminal case. The order will end if the case is dismissed or the offender is found not guilty. If the offender pleads guilty or is found guilty, the order will end at sentencing (although the court may extend a no-contact order as part of a sentence).

Temporary Civil Protection Order or Restraining Order

Temporary Civil Protection Orders or Restraining Orders are short-term protective orders provided to a victim by the civil court after an ex parte hearing, where only one party is present. The victim files a petition for the order before the court and appears to testify. The court will conduct the hearing. If the court finds domestic violence occurred, the court will issue the civil protection order and have local law enforcement serve the order and a notice of full hearing upon the offender. Within weeks, the court will conduct a full hearing on the matter where both parties can attend and offer testimony.

Permanent Civil Protection Order or Restraining Order

The court issues a Permanent Civil Protection Order or Restraining Order when it concludes domestic violence occurred after weighing all evidence presented at the full hearing. Permanent Civil Protection or Restraining Orders may be set for years and can sometimes be renewed. In both temporary and permanent civil protection orders, the court can provide the following:

  • No-contact orders
  • Grant exclusive use of a residence to the victim
  • Address custody and parenting time for parties with minor children
  • Address child support and return of property issues
  • Order the surrender of firearms or ammunition by the offender; and
  • Require the offender to attend domestic violence programming or treatment, such as batterer intervention

Seek Help: Resources for Victims of Domestic Violence

If you are committed to ending domestic violence, seeking support services is crucial. Various government offices and non-profit organizations assist victims of domestic violence and their families. These agencies check the well-being of victims of crime. The abuse victims may also seek referrals to healthcare providers and domestic violence shelters. Family law attorneys can help you understand the legal options available in your state under civil and criminal law. Family law attorneys can also assist victims in seeking child support and acquiring child custody. If you or someone you know experiences domestic abuse, you should seek help and consider obtaining legal advice. You can contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline or a family law attorney near you.

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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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