Domestic Violence FAQ

Q: What is domestic violence?

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:

  • Physical abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Emotional abuse
  • Economic abuse
  • Psychological abuse
  • Stalking
  • Cyberstalking

Q: What can I do to stop an abuser?

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 will 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. For help with requesting a restraining order, contact a qualified domestic violence attorney or legal aid organization in your area.

Q: Where can I get help if I am a victim of domestic violence?

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?

Not unless you are 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 do not 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 do not be discouraged if you have tried leaving, but returned.

Q: Can I file a domestic violence lawsuit against my abuser?

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 torts, which includes the types of injuries common to domestic violence. For more information on filing a domestic violence lawsuit, see this article.

If you’re considering a legal action over the domestic violence you’ve suffered, consult with a civil litigation attorney to evaluate your options. Some 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?

Absolutely. Anyone can be a victim of domestic violence. Men, women, children, teens and people of every race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic background can be victims. Read more about domestic violence against men here.

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. Few states still carry gender specific language that does not protect individuals in same-sex relationships, specifically only Louisiana and South Carolina.

Q: Where can I get help as a victim of sexual abuse?

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.

If you want to pursue criminal legal action against your abuser, you can report it to the police. A friend or advocate from your local sexual abuse prevention organization can support you through this. You can also work with the victim advocate at your local district attorney's office. Your state may not have a statute of limitations or time limits for cases for the type of sexual abuse you experienced, so you can report and pursue action for recent or past incidents.

You may also want to pursue civil legal action to be compensated for what happened to you. If so, contact a qualified domestic violence attorney. Again, because of statute of limitations, seeking assistance quickly is important.

Next Steps

Contact a qualified family law attorney to make sure your rights are protected.

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