A person's home is supposed to be a safe place, defined by the love and support of family members. But sadly, the home can be a place of fear and violence for many -- and it too often goes unreported and unnoticed. Domestic violence is a serious offense that can leave emotional (as well as physical) scars that last a lifetime.
The following are answers to the more frequently asked questions about domestic violence.
Q: What is domestic violence?
A: Domestic violence or family violence is a pattern of abusive behavior in a relationship that is used by one partner to exert control over another intimate partner. Domestic violence can take many forms, including:
Q: What can I do to stop an abuser?
A: You can go to court to request a protection or restraining order, which requires your abuser to stay a certain number of feet away from you, your home, your school, your work, and your car. This doesn’t stop an abuser from stalking or hurting you, but it does allow you to call the police to have the abuser arrested if he or she breaks the restraining or protection order and comes near you.
You can obtain a restraining order by filing the required legal papers with your local court. You'll have to follow your state law on the "ex parte" hearing without the other party and serving the abuser with a copy of the restraining order. The police can sometimes serve the restraining order papers for you.
Q: Where can I get help if I'm a victim of domestic violence?
A: There are many organizations you can turn to, including the police by calling 911 in an emergency, local non-profit domestic violence agencies that may have counseling and shelter that you can find through the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE, a local legal aid agency that can help with restraining orders, and your doctor or clergy.
Q: Do I have to report domestic violence?
A: Not unless you're a mandated reporter, which is a person who is required to report child or certain adult abuse because of their profession. Doctors, nurses, teachers, and day care providers are often mandated reporters, but you should check the law in your state to learn whether you’re considered a mandatory reporter.
Also, if the victim is under 18 years old, child abuse mandatory reporting laws apply. In some states, such as Texas, everyone must report child abuse.
If you’re a victim of domestic violence, you don't have to report what happened to you. However, it’s probably in your best interests to do so. In addition, you may want to report abuse once you’re able to leave the relationship. On average, it takes a survivor seven attempts to permanently leave an abusive relationship, so don't be discouraged if you've tried leaving but returned.
Q: Can I file a domestic violence lawsuit against my abuser?
A: Yes. As a victim of domestic violence, you can sue your abuser for your injuries in civil court, even if you’ve gone through criminal proceedings and lost. Some states still prohibit suing a family member for assault, battery, or other torts; but make sure you check the laws of your state regarding lawsuits.
All states have statutes of limitations (time limits) for filing claims, so you should seek a consultation as soon as possible.
Q: Can men be victims of domestic violence?
A: Absolutely. Anyone can be a victim of domestic violence, including men. Men, women, children, teens and people of every race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic background can be victims. Domestic violence laws typically protect men and women equally. Most state laws are designed to protect victims, no matter what gender, from their abusers (of any gender).
Q: Where can I get help as a victim of sexual abuse?
A: You have to decide who you’re comfortable telling what happened and if you want to pursue legal action. If you want to talk about what happened, even if it was many years ago, call the national sexual assault hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE to talk or seek counseling in your area.
Contact an Attorney for Help With Domestic Violence
If you're the victim of domestic violence, you may need legal help to protect you and your loved ones and possibly to pursue civil actions against your abuser. Since the law can be quite complex and since time can be of the essence, you may want to contact a qualified domestic violence attorney for help.