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Domestic Violence - Legal Protection From Abuse

Many women and men are reluctant to call police when they have been hurt. Victims fear that their partners will retaliate or that police officers will be insensitive and embarrass them, among other concerns. But many communities have made great progress in educating police officers and other people in the criminal justice system about domestic violence.

Many states require that police officers automatically arrest the abuser if they believe domestic violence has occurred. In some communities, assistance from local victim's advocacy groups and state social services are requested at the same time. Along with these services, the law can be another tool you can use to increase your safety and independence.

In many states, police officers can help you obtain a temporary protective order (or restraining order) at the scene of the crime. These orders usually last until a permanent protective order can be issued.

In general, protective orders require the abuser to stay away from you, your home, your workplace, or your school—to stop all contact, whether by telephone, notes, email, or other means—and to stop harming or threatening you. You can request a protective order at any time. An abuser can be arrested for violating a protective order, which is considered contempt of court and a minor (misdemeanor) criminal offense.

Protective orders are available in all states, but each state has its own laws governing them. Many states allow you to obtain a protective order without an attorney. The court can also extend the protective order to your children and order the abuser to have no contact with them, your children's doctors, day care, or school.

Keep your protective order with you at all times, and keep a copy in a safe place. If you travel to another state, check to see if your protective order is valid in that state. Some states enforce protective orders from other states, but many do not.

While protective orders do not automatically prevent you from being abused, they do deter abusers. In one large study that followed women for 12 months, women who obtained permanent protective court orders were 80% less likely to be physically or psychologically abused than those who did not get permanent protective orders.8

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