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Domestic Violence

A topic that used to be “kept in the family” or swept under the rug, domestic violence has been more prevalent in the news and media today than ever before. As a result, a lot of people are wondering how domestic violence is legally defined, where victims can find emotional and legal help, and what can be done to prevent it in the future. The Domestic Violence section of FindLaw’s Family Law Center contains information and resources for family members and intimate partners affected by domestic violence or domestic abuse.

This section provides helpful information on a variety of domestic violence issues, starting with identifying early warning signs and symptoms of domestic violence. Additionally, there are articles on the legal action and practical steps necessary to protect yourself from physical, sexual, emotional, or financial abuse. You’ll also find information on related domestic violence topics – such as stalking and harassment -- and links to state-specific domestic violence laws and resources.

Domestic Violence, Defined

While one of the top health concerns in our country today, many people lack a full understanding of the depth and scope of domestic violence or how it can even be identified. Victims may not realize that what is being inflicted upon them is, in fact, domestic violence, and therefore won’t know to take action against their abusers. At the same time, friends and loved ones of victims may not be able to help if they don’t understand what domestic violence looks like.

The Office on Violence Against Women defines domestic violence as a pattern of abusive behavior in any relationship that’s used by one partner to gain or maintain control over another intimate partner. This behavior can include physical, sexual, emotional, psychological, and even economic abuse. Stalking and threats may be classified as domestic violence as well. And although we normally think of battered wives in the context of domestic abuse, non-married partners, family members, children, and other cohabitants can also be victims of domestic violence.

Preventing and Punishing Domestic Violence

Every state has criminal statutes prohibiting domestic abuse. Whereas law enforcement typically turned a blind eye to domestic violence cases in the past, new laws requiring arrests and mandating harsher penalties have led to an increased rate of response and prosecution. In addition, tort law allows victims of domestic violence to sue their abusers in civil court, and possibly recover damages for their physical, economic, and emotional injuries. Victims can also file for orders of protection, more commonly known as restraining orders, to prevent further abuse.

These remedies, however, are normally only available after an incident of domestic violence has occurred. It’s up to us to stop domestic abuse before it starts. Domestic violence organizations can provide resources on how to identify the warning signs of abuse and how to exit a potentially dangerous relationship. There’s also information on how to know if a neighbor, co-worker, friend, or family member is in a possibly harmful domestic scenario and, if so, how you can help.

Legal Help for Domestic Violence

First and foremost, if you feel unsafe in your home or relationship, you can always call 911. In addition, an experienced family law or criminal law attorney can assist you with everything from talking to the police about a violent incident to filing for protective orders, separation or divorce, and a civil lawsuit.