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Stopping Domestic Violence

There are a number of ways victims and other witnesses can stop domestic violence, which is defined as a violent act committed by one family or household member against another. For example, an abused spouse may petition a judge to issue an “ex parte” (or restraining) order against the abuser. In any event, victims should understand that they have options to living in an abusive household. This section provides information to help those interested in stopping domestic violence, including restraining orders, a primer on how to file a lawsuit against your abuser in civil court, and answers to frequently asked questions about how to stop domestic violence.

History of Police Responses

The police are often the first authorities involved in a situation involving domestic violence. Police attitude and education regarding domestic violence has changed dramatically over the years and brought attendant changes in how situations and individuals are treated.

Before the 1980s the police were inclined to attempt to avoid dealing with domestic violence situations. Some studies show instances where police were trained to screen for domestic violence calls and delay response to them in hopes that the problem would resolve itself at home, or that the assailant would leave before the police arrived.

Since that time many police departments have undergone reforms and instituted special trainings, and in some jurisdictions entire divisions, dedicated to dealing domestic violence more seriously and aggressively. Some jurisdictions have established "coordinated community responses" in which criminal justice and social service agencies work in conjunction to provide protection and support to victims of domestic violence.

Orders of Protection and Restraining Orders

There are a number of protective or restraining orders a court may issue to protect the victims of domestic violence. Which are available will depend on the jurisdiction and the facts of the individual case. Some common protective orders include:

  • Emergency Protection Orders are short-term protective orders given to a victim by the police or a magistrate when their abuser is arrested for domestic violence. They are typically valid for a very short period of time, which permits the victim an opportunity to file for a longer-term protection order.
  • Protection Orders are available in every state. They may prevent contact altogether, limit the reasons for contact, order that the abuser keep a particular distance from the victim, order the abuser to move out of a shared residence, order the surrender of firearms by the abuser and forbid the purchase of new weapons, or order the abuser to attend counseling.
  • Restraining Orders require or forbid certain actions that are frequently similar to protection orders.
  • Criminal Protection Orders are requested in criminal court, rather than in family court.

Which kind of protection or restraining order is available depends on the kind of court or officer to whom the request is made and what sort of process is underway.

Where to Turn for Help

Victims of domestic violence have a number of places they can turn for assistance. If they are in immediate physical danger they can call 911 for emergency assistance. In a non-emergency a victim can still seek the protection of the police. Many police departments can provide safe shelter during an investigation and can connect a victim with other important resources for their protection and support. Doctors, dentists, clergy, and a child's school officials can also provide assistance as mandatory reporters of domestic violence. Certain nonprofit organization, as well as Legal Aid, and many family law attorneys are able to assist a victim in seeking the protection of the police and courts as well as finding other resources to support someone escaping abuse.

Learn About Stopping Domestic Violence