Domestic Abuse Laws

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 What Is Domestic Abuse?

Domestic abuse is a pattern of behavior that one person uses to obtain or maintain power and control over or inflict injury or harm on another person in their household. Some experts describe it as a pattern of behavior, although a pattern only develops over a period of time. Meanwhile, individual acts of abuse may be committed. One act can constitute domestic abuse.

Domestic abuse may consist of physical, mental, or economic abuse. Domestic abuse may comprise a range of crimes, punishable as either misdemeanors or felonies, depending on the facts of the situation and the state in which the crime is committed.

What Is Physical Abuse?

Physical abuse may take the form of such acts as battery, involving pushing, punching, cutting, pinching, striking, and any other type of violent physical contact directed at the victim’s person. Physical abuse may also consist of forcing the victim to do something against their will or without consent. Such may include forcing a person to consume alcohol, drugs, or unwanted food or drink.

What Is Sexual Abuse?

Sexual abuse is a type of abuse in which the abuser threatens to engage in sexual contact with the victim without the victim’s consent. Threatening a victim of unwanted physical contact of any kind may constitute the crime of assault. Or, the perpetrator may engage in unwanted sexual contact with the victim. If this is the case, the crime may be sexual battery. Sexual abuse could take the form of rape.

Sexual abuse might also be a form of mental or emotional abuse, as when the abuser makes sexually degrading comments or jokes about their victim.

What Is Emotional Abuse?

Emotional abuse is any act that damages a victim’s mental health. It may damage the victim’s self-esteem or their sense of agency and autonomy. Emotional abuse can be verbal, such as name-calling, criticism, screaming, or refusing to listen to the victim. Emotional abuse may consist of a person causing a partner or family member humiliation or embarrassment in front of their friends and relatives.

A person engages in emotional abuse in order to obtain control over some aspect of the victim’s personal identity. In other words, the abuser verbally bullies the victim, so the victim loses their self-esteem and comes to rely completely on their abuser for their support.

This type of abuse targets a victim’s self-esteem and self-worth, the ability to maintain a stable home life, and the ability of the victim to interact with other family members comfortably.

Emotional abuse can be aimed at instilling fear into the victim. Fear can be aroused through threats, taunting, and harassment. A victim may respond to fear by becoming depressed, afraid to attend school or go to work, or withdrawing from daily life routines.

What Is Economic Abuse?

Economic abuse is a type of abuse where money and other resources are used to control a victim. An abuser may deny a victim access to family funds, a joint bank account, or joint savings. An abuser may refuse to relate important financial information to their victim, such as information about debts taken on or bills that have gone unpaid.

The abuser may not tell the victim that they have assets. Or, the abuser may make sure that only they have access to assets that should be accessible to the victim which is another way of creating and maintaining fear and dependency.

The abuser may put only their name on credit cards and have their name only on the cell phone account, so they can easily cut the victim off from using these resources. They may also keep all belongings in their name, such as the car or the home, even though the victim should be listed as a co-owner. Such would prevent the victim from leaving the abusive situation or feeling like they can rely on anything other than the abuser.

What Is Stalking?

Stalking consists of a pattern of behavior or activities. For example, the perpetrator may repeatedly spy on or watch the victim. Other things a stalker may do include going to the victim’s workplace, refusing to leave, and entering a place where the victim has gone to engage in leisure time activities, such as at a gym or library. A stalker may threaten to harm the victim’s family or friends.

Stalking can occur on the Internet, such as sending unwanted emails, attachments, or online harassment. Any one of these acts, committed once, may not result in a charge of stalking. However, committing one of these acts repeatedly, or committing several of these acts, can sustain a charge of criminal stalking.

If a person believes that they are a victim of stalking, then the victim documents the behavior, which means keeping track of the dates, times, and locations of the stalker’s actions. The victim also wants to record how long the behavior lasted. If the stalker sends threatening emails or messages, the victim needs to keep them for evidence, e.g., by printing out the emails or archiving them on a computer.

Once a person has proof of stalking with a record of the stalker’s actions, they can turn to the police for help and have a better chance of getting a restraining order.

Who May Be a Victim of Domestic Abuse?

Traditionally, domestic abuse was considered a crime committed by one spouse against the other. Today, the law recognizes that one person can perpetrate acts of abuse against a range of possible victims. Under the law, victims of abuse can include spouses, ex-spouses, partners, people who cohabit, i.e., live together without being married, family members, such as vulnerable elderly parents, and children.

However, the law still regards domestic abuse as abuse between people who share the same household. Therefore, a person cannot be a victim of domestic violence if the person has been victimized by a neighbor or another person who does not live in the person’s home.

However, stalking is different. Any person may commit the crime of stalking with respect to a victim.

What Remedies Are Available to Victims of Domestic Violence?

Victims of abuse may go to court to get emergency protective orders, regular protective orders that have effect for longer periods of time, and or restraining orders against their abusers. A court approves these orders and requires that the abuser not contact the victim, not stay with the victim, or stay out of the victim’s presence.

Victims apply for orders by asking a judge to issue them. When a judge issues the order, the ruling states what the abuser is not permitted to do. Of course, the abuser is given a copy of the order, so they know what they can and cannot do.

An order typically has a date on which it ends. When that date arrives, the order is no longer effective. Victims may apply for additional charges or extensions of initial orders.

If the abuser violates the order, the victim needs to report the violation to the police so they can enforce the order.

These are legal remedies that a victim may access with the help of a lawyer. Other resources, such as non-profit groups that offer other types of help to the victims of domestic abuse, e.g., safe and temporary housing. Among the groups that offer help to victims of domestic abuse are the following:

  • National Coalition Against Domestic Violence
  • LifeWire
  • Kathy’s Legacy Foundation
  • Partnership Against Domestic Violence
  • Futures Without Violence
  • Urban Resource Institute
  • Doorways for Women and Families
  • House of Ruth.

These groups can be found online, and their phone numbers should be found on their web pages.

What Are the Consequences of Domestic Abuse?

Domestic abusers who violate the terms of a protective or restraining order can be found in contempt of court. An abuser who is found to be in contempt of court may be ordered to pay a monetary fine and or serve time in jail. A person found guilty of domestic violence crimes may also have to give up their firearms if that is ordered by the court or required by law.

Actions that constitute domestic abuse can be charged as crimes in all 50 states. The crimes that may be charged include abuse of an intimate partner, elder abuse, murder, rape, assault, kidnapping, false imprisonment, destruction of property, vandalism, trespassing, stalking, unlawful possession or concealment of a weapon, intimidating a witness, and others.

If a person is convicted of some of these crimes, e.g. murder or rape, they may well be sentenced to life in prison or life without the possibility of parole.

The punishment for any crimes that constitute domestic abuse, e.g., assault, battery, kidnapping, and the like, may include serving time in a county jail or state prison, paying fines, serving time on probation, and more.

A frequent consequence of having a criminal record can be difficulty obtaining a job, difficulty finding housing, loss of the ability to qualify for specific professional licenses, and other negative consequences. As part of a sentence, a judge may order an abuser to undergo counseling or rehabilitation. In addition, a domestic abuse conviction may also result in the loss of child custody or child visitation.

In addition, victims of domestic abuse may recover compensatory damages in a civil lawsuit for the losses they have sustained due to abuse. However, filing a civil lawsuit against the perpetrator of domestic abuse is something that probably would not happen in the vast majority of cases for various reasons.

Do I Need the Help of a Lawyer for My Domestic Abuse Situation?

If you believe you are in immediate danger because of a domestic abuser, you should call the police.

If you are in a safe place and believe you have been a victim of domestic abuse, then you should contact a family lawyer. An experienced family lawyer near you can explain your rights and assist you with filing for protective orders. Your lawyer can also help you access other resources that can help you.

If you have been accused or charged with domestic violence, you want to consult a criminal defense attorney immediately to determine the next best step for you.

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