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THE REALITY OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE: DEMEAN, DOMINATE, DESTROY

Domestic violence is all too common. Many victims live in constant fear that another violent episode is just around the corner. The domestic violence trigger is different for different bat­ters. Whatever the cause, the victim is at risk of severe injury and even death.

All states consider domestic violence a serious offense and have fashioned legal remedies for the victim and penalties for the abuser. Civil statutes permit the victim to obtain an immediate tem­porary order of protection based on her word only. Within a short period, the alleged abuser is given his day in court to contest the victim's allegations. After a hearing, the court has the power to enter a long-term order of protection. Domestic violence may also be prosecuted as a crime.

The overwhelming majority of domestic violence victims are female and the majority of abusers are male. Thus, for clarity and simplicity, feminine pronouns are used for the victim and mascu­line pronouns for the abuser. However, abusers and victims can be of any sex, gender identity, or sexual preference.

What is Domestic Violence
The definition of domestic violence may vary slightly from state to state. As a general rule, domestic violence is violence perpetrated on a victim by a current or former spouse, current or former romantic partner, a family member, or a member of the victim's household. Domestic violence encompasses a wide range of behaviors including assault, battery, aggravated assault and battery, sexual assault, stalking, kidnapping, false imprisonment, and threats of physical harm with the intention and apparent ability to carry them out. Each of these behaviors is explained further below. They are both crimes and torts. The batterer may be criminally prosecuted and also sued by the victim in civil court for damages.

Battery is touching the victim against her or his will. Battery includes hitting, striking, slapping, pulling hair, kicking, and scratching. Battery also occurs when a batterer impermissibly touches an object being held by the victim. The object becomes an extension of the victim. For example, girlfriend has her iPhone in her hand as she dials 911. Batterer rips the iPhone out of her hand. Or girlfriend is standing in front of her 52' flat-screen TV, holding it with both hands to protect it from damage by boyfriend. Boyfriend strikes the TV with his baseball bat destroying it.

Assault is a verbal threat made to commit a battery against the victim made within the victim's prox­imity. Typically, the victim must understand the batterer has made a threat to harm the victim with the intention and apparent ability to carry it out. For example, batterer tells victim, "Give me that phone; you're not making any phone calls today: Batterer then rips the phone out of victim's hand. He has committed assault and battery.

Aggravated assault and aggravated battery are assault and battery with the added threat of serious bodily injury and an attempt to carry out the threat. The attempt is often made with a deadly weapon, such as a gun, knife, or blunt instrument. A deadly weapon is not required. An attempt to cause the victim's death by choking, suffocation, or beating is also aggravated battery.

Sexual assault is a sexual act or conduct to which the victim does not consent. It can range from unwanted sexual touching to forcing the victim to perform sex acts to rape.

Stalking is the unwanted pursuit of a victim. Through stalking, the batterer instills uncertainty and fear in the victim. The batterer may appear unannounced at places the victim frequents like the victim's grocery store, exercise class, or workplace. He may tailgate the victim's vehicle. Stalking can include telephoning, telling, and emailing numerous times per day at all hours. Threats imparted by the alleged perpetrator in phone calls, messages, and emails exacerbate the fear and intimidation.

Kidnapping and false imprisonment are included in most definitions of domestic violence. A victim who locks herself in the bathroom to call 911 for help and fears leaving the bathroom has been falsely imprisoned. As the batterer attempts to break into the bathroom, or remove the door from its hinges, the fear and intimidation factor escalates. Snatching the victim by force and against her will is kidnapping and an act of domestic violence. The alleged abuser may deny the victim access to cash, bank accounts, or a debit or credit card depriving the victim of independence. Control is intensified when the victim is the subject of continual verbal abuse, demeaning comments, and intimidation or the victim is prohibited from having social contacts.

Unfortunately, the victim may not realize she is a domestic violence victim, at least at first. The occasional slap on the cheek, hair pulling, the demand for unwanted sexual activity, or even rough sex may be regarded as playfulness. As the conduct escalates, the victim may finally recognize the danger.

Traits of Domestic Violence Abuser
Domestic violence abusers tend to possess characteristic traits.

The abuser may have a charming personality. The abuser may display this charm in public to the extent that a casual observer cannot believe that the abuser could be capable of domestic violence. The abuser can turn the charm on and off at will for his pleasure and amusement.

The abuser has an interest in controlling every aspect of the victim's life. The abuser views himself as far superior to the victim and demands that the victim be subservient to him. The abuser orders the partner to per­form perfectly to his every whim. When the victim falls short in complying with the abuser's demands, episodes of domestic violence can erupt. The abuser wishes to exert financial and economic control over the victim, depriving the victim of self-worth and financial independence. The abuser desires that the victim be entirely dependent on him.

The domestic violence abuser may exhibit frequent and sudden mood swings. Mr. Nice Guy can become a raging violent person with a simple innocent or mildly critical comment from the victim. Often the abuser engages in drug or alcohol abuse which may increase the possibility of an attack. Verbal and physical assaults leave the victim insecure, scared, shaken, and timid. The victim must be on perfect behavior to avoid the abuser's wrath.

The abuser places full priority on himself; his needs must be met completely and perfectly by the victim.

An abuser generally treats the victim as property. The abuser owns the victim and becomes jealous when the abuser-victim relationship is threatened by another person. A male abuser may feel threatened not only by another man who finds the victim attractive, but also by the victim's family members, friends, co-workers, and others outside of the abuser-victim relationship.

Most abusers engage in verbal and emotional abuse of the victim. The purpose of this conduct is to demean the victim, thereby lowering the victim's self-worth. A victim with low or no self-worth is much easier to dominate in all aspects, as well as less likely to object, fight back physically, report to local authorities, or take legal action against the abuser.

The domestic violence batterer often has personal problems. He cannot maintain employment, has no friends, and the like. The abuser tends to make excuses for his misfortune and blames his situation on others.

Unfortunately, the victim often lacks the ability to identify these traits, or purposely overlooks them because she has grown dependent on the abuser. The victim's environment must change, but such change is difficult due to the circumstances.

Practical tips for Protecting Yourself and Your Children from Domestic Violence
• Understand that domestic violence is cyclical; incidents will continue to happen.
• Know that you can obtain a protective order simply and immediately. You do not need a lawyer. Call or visit the clerk's office at your local courthouse and ask for instructions.
• Although the court will issue a temporary order of protection immediately based on the statements in your petition, later you will need to appear before a judge to prove your case. • Gather evidence to support your petition. Take photos or video of your injuries immediately. Save text messages, emails, and voice messages. Talk to anyone who might be willing to serve as a witness. A witness might be someone who observed an incident of domestic violence or observed your injuries, or to whom you spoke about the violence.
• Report the incident to the police. They may also take photographs and they may arrest the abuser beginning the process of criminal prosecution.
• In your petition, be specific in asking for the relief you need, i.e., temporary custody of the children, temporary use of the family residence, temporary child support, abuser to stay away from your residence and place of employ­ment, abuser to attend batterer's intervention program, etc.
• If your abuser owns weapons or firearms, let the court know about them.
• You absolutely must tell the truth in your petition for a protective order. Do not file a petition for protection against domestic violence to gain an unfair advantage in a case for custody of your children. Making false statements to the court that you have sworn are true can subject you to perjury charges. Perjury is a serious crime that can be punished with fines and significant jail time.
• Do not agree to dismiss the protective order case without first consulting your domestic violence victim advocate, counselor, or an attorney familiar with domestic violence cases.
• If you have a divorce or custody case involving your abuser pending in another court, you can have the domestic violence case consolidated with the divorce case so that one judge can hear all issues.
• Make the court aware of all relevant and connected domestic violence incidents, if any, and the disposition of those cases.
• The protective order is a court order prohibiting the abuser from engaging in further acts of domestic violence. However, in practicality, it is a piece of paper that can be easily disregarded by the abuser despite the potential for severe punishment. Protect your children and yourself always.
• Have a strategy and exit plan in place. When the tension in the environment escalates, or injury is imminent, exit immediately. Know the undisclosed location where you will go for protection and safety.
• Report all violations of your order of protection to the police promptly so they can intervene to prevent further and perhaps more dangerous violations.
• Contact your local domestic violence center so that a victim advocate can be assigned to help you. The advocate can refer you to initial safe havens and arrange for counseling and group therapy for you and your children.
• Your lawyer or advocate can help you prepare an escape plan with confidential locations where you can tempo­rarily go into hiding. Do not go to places where your abuser will search, such as the homes of friends and relatives. You will also need advice on the best ways to get cash to finance your escape. Use of a credit card or check may allow your abuser to locate you.
• Seek safety in a protected, undisclosed location. Commence filing for an order of protection immediately; your life may depend on swift, appropriate action. If you are temporarily residing in a secure, undisclosed location, you don't need to reveal it on your petition for an order of protection. Merely identify your temporary residence as 'undisclosed!
 
Call or Text us at 407-436-9443 for any questions you may have
or visit www.bonillalaw.net to learn more and book your appointment!
-Gabriela Bonilla, ESQ

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