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What's Domestic Violence? What Can You Do About It?

It's a sad reality that domestic violence is not just a major issue in the United States. It's a health and safety concern across the globe, targeting women, teens, children, and some men across all cultures and ages. 

But what exactly is classified as domestic violence and how do you know when you're a victim that needs to take action? 

If you've been wondering ''what's domestic violence and how do I protect myself?'', then this blog is for you... 

What's Domestic Violence? An In-Depth Look at a Federal Crime 

Understanding the exact definition of domestic violence will ultimately lead you to demanding justice and protecting your rights

In many cases, abusers don't even realize that their actions are classed as a crime. Conversely, and worse still, victims of violence fail to take action because they don't realize they are victims at all. 

So, how is domestic violence defined? 

The U.S. Department of Justice Office on Violence Against Women has defined domestic violence as: 

"A pattern of abusive behavior in any relationship that is used by one partner to gain or maintain control over another.''

Different Types of Domestic Violence

The abuse of a partner in any relationship does not always have to be physical to be considered abuse. There are many variations, which include: 

1. Emotional Abuse 

Emotional abuse is very common in unhealthy relationships and is also classed as a form of domestic violence. This is the act of invalidating a person's sense of self-worth. Battering their self-esteem in the form of constant criticism, name-calling, guilt-shaming, and interfering with important or close relationships is common. 

2. Sexual Abuse 

This is classified as coercion to perform a sexual act or carry out sexual behavior, against a victim's will. It is classed as forced sexual contact, characterized by marital rape, forceful sex, attack of sexual body parts or sexually demeaning a person.  

3. Physical Abuse

This includes physical actions with the intention of inflicting pain on the victim. Hitting, slapping, battering, punching, cutting, biting, pinching, and shoving fall into this abusive category. Physical abuse also includes the denial of medical treatment, enforcing the use of drugs or alcohol on someone as well as forced starvation. 

4. Economic Abuse 

This is when a person is abused in the form of financial independence. Usually, the abuser seeks to take full control over all financial resources. This leaves the victim completely at the mercy of the abuser, who is able to control their every day lives. 

5. Psychological Abuse

This is when a person lives in constant fear by means of threats, intimidation or guilt-shaming. The abuser invokes a sense of fear that they will hurt themselves, children, family or friends. This then isolates the victim from children and loved ones.  

6. Stalking and Threats 

In today's world, stalking, cyberstalking, and threats are very real and a common problem in dysfunctional relationships. Threats to hit, injure, or use a weapon count as a form of psychological abuse.

Stalking is the act of incessant watching, following, spying, unwanted contact, and harassment. While cyberstalking is of a similar nature, just carried out online in order to distress the victim. 

Who Classifies As a Victim of Domestic Violence?

Anyone can fall victim to domestic violence - regardless of race, socio-economic status, sex, education, age, or sexual orientation.

The definition of a victim of domestic violence includes the following: 

  • Marital spouses
  • An intimate partner you are dating
  • A partner you have a sexual relationship with 
  • Children
  • Family members
  • Co-habitants living under the same roof 

It's important to note that you don't need to be someone's spouse in order to obtain a protective order against an abuser. Most states across the U.S. allow co-habitant partners, whether married or not, to obtain protective orders.

Some states also allow victims who are relatives, roommates, and non-co-habiting partners to apply for protective orders.

What Can Be Done About Domestic Violence? 

The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was passed by the U.S. Congress in 1994. This act, along with various additions to it in 1996, classify domestic violence as a national crime. This means that victims are protected by federal law. 

In both these years, the U.S. Congress also made amendments to the Gun Control Act. It is now a federal crime in certain situations for a domestic violence abuser to possess a gun. 

Abusers can also be persecuted for misdemeanor conduct. According to the VAWA Act, this covers abusers who may be a spouse, former spouse, intimate partner, parent, co-parent, guardian or co-habitant.  

How To Take Action 

In a domestic violence emergency, it's wise to call your local authorities first.

Your local district attorney's office will then take a look at your case and refer it for federal prosecution. State domestic violence laws vary across the U.S. This means that escaping domestic violence may differ from one state to the next.

If you are unsure of a violation and whether it's classed as domestic violence, call your local authorities or contact an attorney. 

Here's what you should know about U.S. federal crimes for domestic violence. They are classed as felonies according to the 1994 VAWA: 

  • Crossing state lines, entering or leaving Indian country to physically injure an intimate partner 
  • Crossing state lines to harass or stalk within the maritime or territorial lands of the United States
  • Crossing state lines to enter or leave Indian country and violate a qualifying protection order held by a spouse, former spouse, or partner 

If you need help, don't forget the National Domestic Violence Hotline can be contacted 24/7, on any day of the year! 

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