Law School 101 for victims of domestic abuse

Domestic violence accounts for 15 percent of all violent crime in the U.S. Here are ways the law can help address this terrible situation.

Domestic abuse victim. Video screen capture via YouTube video of "Behind Closed Doors" UK documentary, True Vision Productions, 2016.

WASHINGTON, September 3, 2017 – There was a time not so long ago when domestic abuse was mostly overlooked. Such violence was considered a “family matter” and as such, this crime rarely involved police action beyond perhaps temporarily removing the abuser from the household. Charges were rarely filed and prosecutions did not take place except in the most extreme situations.

That this crime was so frequently ignored is as dark a comment on U.S. law as any. Statistics bear this out: there are approximately 20 individuals who are physically abused by an intimate partner every minute. This translates to more than 10 million women and men being harmed each year. On a typical day, more than 20,000 telephone calls are made to domestic violence hotlines in this country.

Domestic violence accounts for 15 percent of all violent crime. Nearly 60 percent of young women experience abuse and 11 percent who say their partner is currently abusive predict they will be seriously hurt or killed. Perhaps surprisingly, however, approximately 40 percent of victims of severe physical violence are men.

Fortunately, laws and attitudes have changed in recent years. Zero tolerance is now the understood goal with regard to domestic abuse. Across all states, definitions of what constitutes an act of domestic violence act have expanded, arrests and convictions have increased markedly, and penalties have stiffened.

Anyone can be a victim of the criminal acts of another. Those who find themselves in this position should take action and do so quickly. Perhaps LaToya Jackson, whose then husband Jack Gordon beat her badly, offered the best advice: If he hits you once, I promise you he will hit you again, so please walk away, please.

Understand that domestic violence is a pattern of abusive behavior in any relationship that is used by one person to gain or maintain control over another person, typically a spouse or a domestic partner, a child or children and other family member or cohabitants. Domestic abusers often use physical force and can escalate to using weapons.

Domestic abuse is not limited to acts of physical violence. It can include emotional and psychological abuse.

What follows is a summary and guide for individuals who find themselves victims of domestic violence.

Legal devices for self-protection

1) Protection Orders. These cannot stop the abuse, but, if violated, they allow the victim to call the police and have the abuser arrested.

All fifty states and the District of Columbia have laws covering some form of “protection order.” Known by other names in different states, such as Orders of Protection or Restraining Orders, these are court orders that may include many different provisions, all designed to keep the abuser physically away from the victim.

Obtaining a protection order will require a hearing, during which the victim must testify. To that end, victims should prepare themselves.

Emotional issues are important. Make sure the court learns of the abuse victim’s fears and safety concerns. These concerns will be addressed.

At the hearing, the victim should keep a good distance from the abuser, and if possible, have a friend or another family member there for support. If there is no supporter available to attend the hearing, the victim should express all safety concerns to the bailiff or sheriff.

A victim should have an exit strategy once the hearing is over, perhaps asking the judge or court officer to detain the abuser until a decent period of time has elapsed after the victim leaves the courthouse. Even better: Ask for an escort from the courthouse.

There can be “no contact” provisions in protection orders, preventing the abuser from calling, texting, emailing, stalking, disturbing, and, of course, attacking or hitting the victim.

There can be “stay away” provisions ordering the abuser to stay at least a certain number of yards or feet away from the victim, the home, job, school or car at all times.

There can be “move out” provisions, requiring the abuser to move out of a shared home with the victim.

Protection orders can be in effect for one year, five years, or for a lifetime, depending upon the circumstances.

A protection order can also include firearms provisions requiring the abuser to surrender any guns he or she possesses and prohibiting the purchase of firearms.

Of note, any individual convicted of a domestic violence offense, either a felony or a misdemeanor, cannot own a firearm. The Gun Control Act of 1968 and the 1994 Violence Against Women Act make the ownership and even the possession of a firearm by a convicted domestic violence abuser illegal. Military and law enforcement personnel are not exempt from this law, even if they carry weapons while they are on duty.

This restriction on firearm possession is extremely important. Abused women are five times more likely to be killed by their abuser if the abuser owns a firearm.

Action Step: If you believe your abuser possesses a gun, notify police. There are restrictions. Typically, the abuser must be a current or ex-spouse, the mother or father of your child, or have lived with you at some point.

Protection orders can protect children, other family members, roommates, or current romantic partners of the victim. Some orders even cover pets.

Enforcement of these orders extends to wherever a victim may live, including if the victim moves to another state. The Full Faith and Credit Clause of the U.S. Constitution and other federal laws require that a valid protection order be enforced where it is issued and in all other U.S. states and territories. If an abuser follows a victim to another state, police must uphold the protection order from the state where it was issued.

2) Emergency Protection Order

Police in many states are authorized to issue a short-term (usually 3-7 days) order requiring the abuser to physically stay away from the victim when the abuser has been arrested. This permits the victim time to request a long-term protection order.

Action Step: In situations where abuse has been ongoing and there has been no immediate violence or arrest, leaving in the middle of the night is a plan frequently undertaken by many victims. Calling the police and asking for help is an intelligent method to assure a safe escape. The victim should then get an Emergency Order and file documents requesting a hearing for a more formal long-term Order. Many police stations are able to grant emergency protection orders that are effective until a court is in session for a hearing on the more formal protection order.

Even if police cannot issue an Emergency Order, in most cases they can help victims get to a safe place.

Despite the sometimes-extraordinary difficulties involved, the Number One rule is that a victim must always protect herself or himself and their children. Victims must know they did nothing wrong and that it is the abuser who is the criminal and is fully responsible.

Alternative organizations

Organizations also exist that can help victims of domestic abuse. A national organization, the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCAD) is one excellent resource. Additionally, every state has one or more similar organizations. Finding these groups is easy: Go to any computer, search for “domestic violence” and follow those words with the name of a city or state. Calling one of these organizations is a first step, and should be done at even a hint of potential violence.

These are wonderful organizations, all which offer support and legal assistance.

You are not alone

Victims must know that they are not alone. Many people, including some very famous individuals, have been victims of abuse. Oprah Winfrey admitted to being molested as a child. Actress Halle Berry was physically abused by a boyfriend who hit her so hard her eardrum was punctured, causing her to lose 80 percent of that ear’s hearing. Tyler Perry’s father abused him.

More recently, many will still remember the surveillance camera footage of Ray Rice (then a member of the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens) attacking and knocking out his fiancée Janay in an elevator. That imagery has been burned into the minds of everyone who saw it.

Isn’t it sickening to actually see such violence? Alas, millions know about these situations all too well. These individuals should and must know that the law can and will help. And if this article helps just one person it was certainly worth writing and reading.

Paul A. Samakow is an attorney licensed in Maryland and Virginia, and has been practicing since 1980.  He represents injury victims and routinely battles insurance companies and big businesses that will not accept full responsibility for the harms and losses they cause. He can be reached at any time by calling 1-866-SAMAKOW (1-866-726-2569), via email, or through his website

His book “The 8 Critical Things Your Auto Accident Attorney Won’t Tell You” can be instantly downloaded, for free, on his website:

Samakow has now also started a small business consulting firm. The website for this business is brand new and Mr. Samakow will be most appreciative of any and all comments.


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