Many women and men are
reluctant to call police when they are beaten. 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
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
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
Contact your local domestic
violence group, legal aid society, or family court for help. See the National
Coalition Against Domestic Violence's website at
www.ncadv.org/resources/StateCoalitionList.php to find the program nearest to you that
offers shelter and legal support. Also, the National Domestic Violence Hotline
1-800-799-SAFE (1-800-799-7233) can provide you with contacts.
The court may also award temporary custody of children to you, along with child
support, spousal support, and use of the home and car along with the protective
order. The court may be able to order the batterer to pay your legal costs and
fees. As a victim of a crime, you may also be eligible for additional financial
support from the court.
Many states require that
abusers attend batterer intervention programs. These programs try to make
abusers accountable for their behavior and educate them about healthy
alternatives to their abuse. Batterer intervention programs report varying
degrees of success, although so far, studies have not verified that success.
Most experts believe that batterer programs are most effective when the abuser
recognizes that his or her behavior is abusive, and wants to change.13