Domestic Violence

Domestic violence is a crime with far-reaching consequences for individuals and families. While incidents are in decline, domestic violence is still a serious problem in the U.S. If you have been victimized by a family member, contact a domestic violence lawyer for guidance.

What is Domestic Violence?

Domestic violence is abuse that occurs in the home and between members of the household. While most people think of domestic violence as intimate partner violence, the perpetrator and abuser can be anyone in the family or household: parents, children, siblings, or partners. The victim may be a child, an intimate partner, or an elderly family member.

Traditionally, the term referred to physical violence, but today domestic violence may include any type of abuse:[1]

  • Physical abuse that causes pain, suffering, and injuries
  • Sexual abuse, including assault, inappropriate touching, rape, and other offenses
  • Emotional abuse, which may include threats, humiliation, verbal put-downs, and controlling behaviors
  • Economic abuse is another form of control in which the victim has limited or no access to money

Stalking may also be considered a form of domestic violence. It is unwanted, repeated contact with the victim, which may include following, watching, calling, or texting.

Domestic Violence Statistics

Domestic violence has long carried a stigma. Many people keep quiet about it, but this is changing. Statistics are disheartening, but as more people talk about and take a legal stance against abuse, it improves.[2]

  • One in three women and one in ten men 18 or older has experienced domestic violence.
  • One in four women and one in seven men have been physical abused by an intimate partner.
  • One in six women and one in 19 men have been stalked.
  • Approximately 25% of children have been exposed to at least one incidence of domestic violence.
  • Domestic violence accounts for more than 1,500 deaths each year in the U.S.
  • The overall rate of domestic violence in the U.S. is declining.
  • Most victims of domestic violence do not seek help.
  • Approximately 40% of people killed by their abuser tried to get help in the two years before their death.

What Laws Protect Against Domestic Violence?

Most laws that aim to prevent domestic violence, protect victims, and hold abusers accountable are at the state level. At the federal level, the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was passed in the 1990s to support states overburdened by domestic violence cases.[3]

VAWA funds programs for victims and established a national hotline for domestic violence and abuse. It also changed immigration laws to allow immigrant victims to apply for residency without their spouse’s support.[3]

State laws vary but generally address three important issues that arise in domestic violence cases:

  • Arrest policies. Most states have a policy of arresting at least one person after a domestic violence complaint. If the police do not arrest anyone, they must write a report to justify that decision. In some states, the policy is for mandatory arrest; it is not at the discretion of the police. This is designed to keep the victim safe.
  • Reporting of abuse. All but two states have mandatory reporting requirements. Medical professionals must report domestic abuse if they know it has occurred or are reasonably suspicious. The details of this requirement vary by state.
  • Early lease termination. Several states protect victims by allowing them to get out of housing leases early without financial penalties. This allows them to get away from the abuser. For the rule to apply, the victim must have a police report or protective order.

What Should I Do if I am a Victim of Domestic Violence?

Taking action in the face of domestic violence is difficult. There are many barriers to getting help: fear of worse abuse, lack of support, lack of money, shared children, lack of alternative accommodation, fear of homelessness, and more.

If you have been a victim of domestic violence, resources can help. There are important steps to take:

  1. Call the police or 911. Report the incident, so there is a police record. This will help you take legal steps later and can also stop the abuse immediately.
  2. Get medical help. Seek medical attention if necessary.
  3. Reach out. Contact friends or family you know will be supportive and helpful. Someone may be willing to give you a place to stay if your abuser is released from custody.  
  4. File a protective order. A lawyer can help you file a protective order with the courts that will keep your abuser away from you.
  5. Make a plan. Work with your lawyer and supportive people in your life to make a plan for the future, including where to live if your abuser is released. You may need to consider children, pets, finances, and other complicating factors.

If you are afraid of taking the next step or aren’t sure what to do next, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline. The operators are trained to assist safely and to provide you with support and resources.[4]

Can I Get a Domestic Violence Protective Order?

If you have been the victim of domestic violence, you can ask the court for a protective order. When seeking a protective order, you are the petitioner, and the abuser is known as the respondent. A protective order generally prevents the respondent from contacting the petitioner or coming within a certain distance.

In an emergency, a judge may issue a protective order that is immediate and temporary. It does not require the respondent to be present or notified to issue it. After a hearing, the judge may extend the temporary order to a permanent order.

Most states consider a violation of a protective order a crime. The respondent can face charges, in addition to abuse or domestic violence, which is an incentive to abide by the order.

What Happens When Someone is Arrested for Domestic Violence?

When someone is arrested for a crime, they may or may not be allowed to post bail to get out of jail until a trial. The abuser will attend an arraignment or hearing, during which the judge reads the charges and bail is set.

In the case of domestic violence, the victim needs to get a protective order in case bail is posted. This makes it illegal for the abuser to contact or get too close to the victim.

The abuser will appear in court again and may plead guilty and receive a sentence. They may also choose to go to trial. They will be assigned a public defender if they cannot afford a private defense lawyer. The legal teams on each side may reach a deal with a plea bargain and avoid trial.

Domestic abuse is a serious issue in the U.S., even if it has declined in recent years. If you have been a victim of domestic violence or charged with this crime, contact a lawyer who specializes in these cases.

  1. MedlinePlus. (2020, December 7). Domestic Violence.
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  2. Huecker, M.R. and Smock, W. (2020, October 15). Domestic Violence. StatePearls.
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  3. United States Department of Justice. The United States Attorney’s Office Western District of Tennessee. (2020, May 26). Federal Domestic Violence Laws.
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  4. National Domestic Violence Hotline. (n.d.). What to Expect When You Contact Us.
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