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What IS Domestic Violence?

From the Criminal Justice Side

Under most state laws, domestic violence is defined as any physical abuse, or threat of abuse, between intimately involved partners, roommates, or family members. In some states, the legal wording extends to include anyone with whom you have had a child, whether or not they live with you or EVER lived with you. Domestic violence can (and often DOES) happen outside the home - what makes it "domestic violence" is the relationship between the parties, regardless of WHERE the violence occurs. Domestic violence is often thought about as being inflicted from a husband to a wife, but it can also include violence from a teenager to a parent, from a wife to her husband, between siblings and other family members, between your ex and your current love interest (you are the uniting factor in the middle), and between partners in gay/lesbian couples, even if not living together.

Law enforcement and the courts use domestic violence as an umbrella term for a wide variety of combinations of other crimes. Most domestic violence charges include at least one "person to person" crime, such as assault (threatening to harm someone either by word or action) or battery (ANY level of unwanted touching) . There does NOT have to be injury for a domestic violence charge - even pushing or grabbing is enough! If there IS any level of injury, the battery can be charged at a higher level.

Other common elements of domestic violence crimes include: kidnapping (which can be as simple as not letting you leave the room), criminal mischief or vandelism (egging your house, scratching up your car), burglary (entering your home or vehicle without your permission, even if nothing is taken), and stalking.

From the Advocacy Side

The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence defines domestic violence as a pattern of behavior used to establish power and control over another person through fear and intimidation, often including the threat or use of violence, when one person believes they are entitled to control another.

While the police are concerned with the commission of a crime (assault, battery, kidnapping etc. as noted above), the advocacy community is concerned with the larger picture. Notice that the law enforcement side doesn't look at (and can't arrest or prosecute for) emotional abuse, financial control, isolation techniques, the destruction of the victim's relationships with family and friends; child custody and visitation issues or many of the other ways that are used to terrorize a victim into submission. Fortunately for victims, there are social scientists, researchers, domestic violence programs, advocates and other professionals who can and DO take these factors into consideration. Together, all sides work to bring safety for victims and their children, accountability for offenders, changes in social and cultural attitudes that foster family violence, and support and resources for those caught up in the cycle violence.

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Last Updated: March 16, 2011