Domestic Violence Laws: An Overview of Your Rights

Mon, 2013-08-26 10:09 � nosman

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn signed into law a requirement that teachers incorporate age-appropriate education about teen dating violence for students in grades seven through 12. Additionally, school boards must adopt policy regarding the issue and determine how employees will respond to dating violence incidents. With new laws like this one pushing for greater awareness of teen dating abuse, knowing your rights could help make a difference not only towards changing policy, but also what to do if you are in an abusive relationship.

After Congress passed the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), federal laws were put in place that make domestic violence a crime. Plus, it’s a federal crime in certain situations for domestic abusers to possess guns. However, states determine most of the other laws pertaining to dating violence, and not every state defines “dating violence” in the same way, or offers the same protections to minors.

Each state has laws that require certain individuals to report suspected child abuse to government authorities. This means teachers, health care professionals and others have to report abuse. In some states, dating violence is treated the same as child abuse, and in some it’s not.

Most states cover protection orders. They’re also known as restraining orders, protection peace, stay away or protection from abuse orders, depending on where you live. State laws vary on protection orders against minors. In some states, family court can issue a protection order against a minor, while in others, it has to be in the juvenile court. Some states do not allow protection orders against minors at all. Plus, the definition of these orders vary. In New Hampshire, it covers victims who have been sexually abused, threatened to be physically abused, stalked or harassed.

These orders are just one part of a support system, but they can be very powerful in helping a young person leave an abusive relationship. For example, a civil protection order is a judicial decree that restricts a person’s movements and activities towards another person, as well as prohibit someone from stalking, harassing or communicating to the other person in any shape or form. And if these things are violated, the restricted person can face criminal penalties, including jail time.

Depending on where you live, these orders can differ — a protection order is given by a judge in civil or family court, whereas a stay away order is given by a judge in criminal court. They have the same restrictions, but are given differently. For instance, in Florida, victims and parents of victims that have reasonable cause to believe they are in imminent danger of suffering another act of dating violence have standing in the circuit court to file a restraining order against the accused abuser.
Some states allow minors to file for assistance without parental involvement, while others don’t. In Texas, a minor needs an adult to file an application to get a protective order, then the minor give a sworn statement called an “affidavit” describing the recent acts of abuse and when they happened, whereas in Washington, an adult needs to be present during the court procedures with the minor.
So who could handle your case? A legal service provider is a trained legal professional who can discuss your options, help create a safety plan and connect you with the civil or criminal justice system. They can also help you obtain a protection order against the abuser, and ensure the order is upheld at your home, school or place of work.
Everyone has the right to a safe and healthy relationship free from violence and abuse. Contact Break the Cycle to learn more about our legal services.