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Domestic Violence and the Law

Domestic violence (DV), also domestic abuse, encompasses violent acts or threats directed between people in a close familial or social relationship. A couple may be dating, living together, or married. Two people may share a child or be family members. Those involved may be of any sexual orientation, race, age, religion, sex, or gender identity. Individuals dealing with domestic violence have the right to seek common penalties and protect themselves in criminal court.

Anyone can become a victim or perpetrator of these crimes. Yet, typically, serious domestic violence injuries result from males attacking females. While rape and murder are forms of domestic violence, abuse often manifests in lesser physical acts, like pushing, slapping, or stalking. Some states view abuse against children as domestic violence as well. DV can be a separate criminal charge in addition to other crimes, such as assault and battery.

The Federal Definition of Abuse

At the federal level, domestic violence is defined by the US Department of Justice as “A pattern of abusive behavior in any relationship that is used by one partner to gain or maintain power and control over another intimate partner.” The federal definition broadly includes emotional, economic, psychological, or technological threats or actions in addition to physical and sexual violence. Abusive behaviors seek to intimidate, humiliate, manipulate, frighten, isolate, coerce, threaten, blame, terrorize, hurt, wound, or injure another.

Knowing when displays of poor behavior cross the line into domestic violence can be difficult for some victims to identify. If you have confusion about what constitutes abuse, the federal government outlines them more fully in six categories:

  • Physical Abuse – Slapping, shoving, hitting, punching, pinching, grabbing, hair pulling, biting, etc., all constitute types of physical abuse.
  • Sexual Abuse – Attempting to or coercing sexual behavior or contact without consent. These behaviors may include but are not limited to attacks on sexual parts of the body, marital rape, forcing sex after the occurrence of physical violence, or treating a person in a sexually demeaning manner.
  • Emotional Abuse – Undermining a person’s self-esteem or sense of self-worth. These behaviors may include constant criticism, name-calling, diminishing a person’s abilities, or damaging one’s relationship with their children.
  • Economic Abuse – Restraining or controlling a person’s ability to use, acquire, or maintain economic resources to which they are entitled. These abuses may include fraud, coercion, and manipulation with the intent to restrict access to a person’s money, assets, credit, or other financial information. Unfairly using a partner’s economic resources or exerting undue influence over a person’s economic and financial decisions or behavior includes forcing default on joint or other financial obligations, exploiting guardianship, conservatorship, or powers of attorney, or neglecting or failing to act in the best interests of a person to whom you have a fiduciary duty.
  • Psychological Abuse – Creating fear through intimidation, the threat of physical harm to self, partner, children, or a partner’s family and friends, destruction of property, harming pets or forcing isolation from family, friends, work, or school.
  • Technological Abuse – Intending to harm, control, threaten, harass, stalk, exploit, impersonate, or monitor another person using any technology. These abuses can occur on online spaces and platforms, internet-enabled devices, mobile devices, computers, imaging programs, apps, location tracking devices, cameras, communication technologies, or any other emerging technology.

Anyone Can Fall Victim to Abuse

Domestic violence is pervasive in America and cuts across all boundaries affecting people of any socioeconomic background and education level. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) statistics show an alarming number of incidences go unreported. Often domestic violence is under-reported because of fear and sometimes because a person doesn’t recognize the behavior as DV.

Abusers do not meet a predictable personality profile. However, they display common characteristics that can keep victims from understanding they are experiencing domestic abuse or violence. Abusers often minimize or deny the existence or seriousness of the violence and its effect on a partner or family member. Often an abuser will externalize the causes of their abusive behavior, blaming circumstances like stress, a bad day, drugs and alcohol, or even their partner’s behavior.

The laws addressing domestic violence protect individuals from experiencing abuse in any form. If you feel you or your family are in immediate danger, call 911. If you need help removing yourself or your family from a DV situation, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY) to receive information.

Experiencing violence at the hands of a loved one is confusing, frightening, and degrading. If you are a victim of DV, you are also the victim of a crime according to federal domestic violence laws. The Violence Against Women Act received reauthorization by the Biden administration in 2022, strengthening the 1994 landmark law. The law is on the side of those individuals experiencing domestic violence, but a victim must reach out for help. Domestic violence won’t resolve itself through the patience and understanding of a partner. It is a crime for which you must seek legal protection.

For legal advice, please contact our Houston office today at (713) 582-5088 or schedule a consultation.

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