Domestic Violence: Taking Action FAQ
Suggestions to help you stop domestic violence.
The most powerful legal tool for stopping domestic violence is the temporary restraining order (TRO). A TRO is a decree issued by a court that requires the perpetrator to stop abusing you. The order may require, for example, that the perpetrator stay away from the family home, where you work or go to school, your children's school and other places you frequent (such as a particular church). The order will also prohibit further acts of violence.
Many states make it relatively easy for you to obtain a TRO. In New York, California and some other states, for example, the court clerk will hand you a packet of forms and will even help you fill them out. When you've completed your forms, you'll go before a judge to show evidence of the abuse, such as hospital or police records. Judges are often available to issue TROs after normal business hours because violence certainly occurs outside the hours of 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Contact your local police department. In many communities, the police can issue something called an emergency protective order when court is out of session. An emergency protective order usually lasts only for a brief period of time, such as a weekend or a holiday, but otherwise it is the same as a temporary restraining order. On the next business day, you will need to go to court to obtain a TRO.
Some people go to court the very first time they are abused, while others wait until they can't live with it any longer -- sometimes for many years. What some fail to understand is that, despite the social awareness and sympathy surrounding domestic violence, the decision to grant a restraining order is based on law and legal process. Because of this, there are steps you can take to increase your chances of succeeding in court.
Police Reports. You should call the police if you feel threatened or have been a victim of violence. This is important for your physical safety, but it will also help your case in court. The police must file a report documenting the incident whether you seek a restraining order or not. If you go to court for that particular episode or a future one, you get a copy of the report from the police station and take it to court.
Photographs. Whether or not the police take pictures of any injuries, you should have a friend or family member do the same. (Police photos don't always make their way from the police file to the judge's courtroom in time for a restraining order hearing.) Ask your friend to take approximately ten pictures -- and be sure that she or he photographs your injuries from different angles, using both outdoor and indoor light. It's also important to photograph any property damage. Take pictures, for example, of any broken furniture, unhinged doors or holes in walls that resulted from the violence.
Register it with the police located in the communities in which the abuser has been ordered to stay away from you -- where you live, work, attend school or church and where you children go to school. Call the appropriate police stations for information about how to register your order.
Obviously, a piece of paper cannot stop an enraged spouse or lover from acting violent, although many times it is all the deterrent the person needs.
If the violence continues, contact the police. They can take immediate action and are far more willing to intervene when you have a TRO than when you don't. Of course, if you don't have a TRO or it has expired, you should also call the police -- in all states, domestic violence is a crime and you don't have to have a TRO for the police to investigate.
The police should respond to your call by sending out officers. In the past, police officers were reluctant to arrest abusers, but this has changed in many communities where victims' support groups have worked with police departments to increase the number of arrests. You can press criminal charges at the police department, and ask for criminal prosecution. Documentation is crucial if you want to go this route. Be sure to insist that the officer responding to your call makes an official report. Also, get the report's prospective number before the officer leaves the premises.
If you do press charges, keep in mind that only the district attorney decides whether or not to prosecute. If you don't press charges, however, the chance is extremely low that the district attorney will pursue the matter.