How To Get Help With Domestic Violence

Unfortunately, many families experience some kind of domestic violence. Victims of intimate partner domestic violence have difficulty leaving their abusers for various reasons. They may have children together. The victim may be financially dependent on the abuser.

If you or someone you know is in immediate physical danger, call 911. The police, EMTs, and other first responders are the best people to help protect your physical safety.

Domestic violence occurs when one intimate partner engages in abuse to assert power and control over another intimate partner. Domestic violence can take many forms. It can include physical violence and sexual violence. It may include psychological abuse and emotional abuse. An abuser may also attempt to control the victim's finances. An abuser may engage in stalking behaviors.

Domestic violence can occur between married couples and intimate partnerships of any kind. State laws define family members who can pursue domestic violence charges.

Fortunately, for victims who decide to get out of an abusive relationship, many organizations are available to help with domestic violence. The following is a primer on how to get help with domestic violence.

Contact the Police or Law Enforcement

If someone in your family hurt you or a child, the best thing to do is to contact the police and file a report as soon as possible. The police have the authority to investigate your case. They can take your statement and interview witnesses. They can document physical abuse with photographs. Police often will make referrals to victim services and provide information on shelters. They can request medical services for you.

The police can file criminal charges against the batterer and make an arrest. Once a case is filed, it will proceed through the criminal justice system.

The officer will file an incident report. They may have you sign a written statement about what happened. You can obtain copies of these documents to use in later court proceedings. For example, you can present these documents during a request for a restraining order or protective order against the abuser.

Many people don't go to the police because they are afraid. Sometimes they fear that they will get in trouble for something else. They might believe that the police won't take their claims seriously. In previous years, police responses to domestic violence may not have been prioritized. Although these fears may be reasonable, a family's safety should be prioritized.

In 1994, Congress passed the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). This act created federal felony offenses for crossing state lines to commit domestic violence or to violate a protective order. VAWA also provided grants to local law enforcement and victim service agencies. These grants were designed to improve the police response to family violence. VAWA provided technical assistance and training for law enforcement. It provided housing protections for victims.

Many police departments have pro-arrest or preferred arrest policies today. Police training has improved. The criminal case does not end at arrest. Police can continue to gather evidence up to the date of trial if necessary. The consequences of domestic violence have also increased. A first offense may be a misdemeanor crime. But later offenses may be felonies. There are many other factors in a given case that may lead to felony prosecution as well.

Contact Health Care Providers

Today, healthcare workers have training in the issues surrounding domestic violence and other violent crimes. They can assist you in multiple ways. If you were injured during domestic abuse, they could treat your injuries. Police and prosecutors can gain access to medical treatment records in domestic violence cases.

All healthcare providers are mandated reporters for child abuse and neglect. They may also be mandated reporters for domestic violence. This will depend on state law.

Sometimes, a healthcare facility will have a DOVE program or SANE program to assist victims of crime. DOVE stands for Domestic and Other Violent Emergencies. DOVE nurses provide specialized treatment and care to victims of domestic violence. They will take extensive photographs and offer more than a cursory review of the victim's complaints. If the victim reports strangulation, they will provide appropriate aftercare services. DOVE programs will make referrals to counseling and victim services.

SANE stands for Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner Program or forensic nurses. SANE nurses provide specialized treatment and care to victims of sexual abuse. They will take extensive photographs and collect physical evidence from the victim. SANE programs also make referrals to counseling and victim services.

Healthcare workers will also provide referrals for services for any children who witnessed domestic violence. Children see and hear more than most victims realize. Counseling for a child can help them understand they are not at fault. It can also help a child stay safe.

Clergy, School Officials, Employers

Survivors of domestic violence often need someone to talk to about the abuse. Clergy members can provide spiritual support. Clergy can also refer a victim to social services. For example, a victim may need food assistance or rent assistance. Most statements made to clergy are confidential and privileged.

A victim should contact school officials in circumstances where the abuser is now prohibited by court order from contact with the children. School officials should receive a copy of the protection order. They can alert security to changes in the child custody and parenting schedule. Under proper circumstances, a victim can request that an abuser be removed from the emergency contact list.

A victim should be aware that clergy and school officials may have a duty to report suspected child abuse.

In many cases, a victim will want to notify her employer of the domestic violence or the issuance of a protection order. Protection orders include no-contact provisions that will ban the abuser from coming to the victim's workplace. Employers may want to update security measures. A victim may need leave time to attend court and meetings with police.

Victim Service Nonprofit Organizations

Many nonprofit organizations are dedicated to helping people who have suffered intimate partner violence. Victim advocates can help a victim create a safety plan. First, there's the National Domestic Violence Hotline, 1-800-799-SAFE, or TTY 1-800-787-3224. Additionally, each state has its own organizations that provide advocacy services to domestic abuse victims. Find out how to contact the ones in your state.

Legal Aid and Family Law Attorneys

Given the difference in state laws, a victim should seek legal advice about a domestic violence case. Sometimes a victim and their loved ones have conflicting concerns. This can lead to misinformation and confusion about the court process.

Victims of domestic violence may qualify for the appointment of a Legal Aid attorney to assist them with obtaining a protection order. Sometimes, these attorneys may also help a victim with getting child support.

A family law attorney also can assist a victim in obtaining an order of protection. They can help file a divorce or paternity action and seek child custody and support orders. If you can't afford an attorney, contact your state's legal aid organization to see if you qualify for free representation.

Dating Violence

Dating violence can be defined as abuse in a dating relationship or involving an intimate or romantic nature. The parties often have not lived together.

Most states do not have stand-alone offenses for dating violence. However, victims of dating violence may experience the same types of abuse common in a domestic violence case. Someone who has been a victim of dating violence will be able to seek assistance from the agencies listed above. Charges of assault, battery, sexual assault, and stalking may be appropriate depending on the facts of the case.

More Questions About Domestic Violence? Contact an Attorney

If you or someone you love suffers from domestic violence, figuring out how to get relief can seem overwhelming. In addition to the need for immediate safety, victims and family members may have to deal with relocations, custody issues, and other legal matters. You can obtain legal services by contacting an experienced family law attorney.

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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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