Domestic Violence Laws and Charges of Domestic Abuse
Better-defined domestic violence laws were a result of an increase in reports of domestic violence cases in the 1980s. Public news reports of domestic violence charges involving celebrities resulted in a heightened awareness of domestic abuse and associated social and legal issues. The high profile and celebrity involvement in the tragic OJ Simpson case fed the American public's insatiable appetite for sensational celebrity gossip.
High Profile Domestic Violence Cases
In what remains one of the most highly publicized domestic violence cases; the state of California indicted the famed football star for the brutal murder of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson. In a televised, protracted trial, the court acquitted OJ Simpson in a ruling that still conjures up suspicion and uneasiness from many Americans. Some years prior to his ex-wife's brutal murder, a court found Simpson guilty of domestic abuse charges brought by Nicole Brown Simpson while they were still married.
But amid the trite and voyeuristic attitude the public displayed in regards to the media hype surrounding the trial, came the spark that ignited the beginnings of real change. After the tabloid-like media buzz ended, the horror of Simpson's murder served a priceless purpose – it changed the way Americans perceive domestic abuse cases.
Public Perception and Domestic Violence Laws
Prior to the widespread enactment of the initial domestic violence laws in the 1980s, Americans believed that people should handle their domestic abuse issues without legal intervention. You just didn't mention these very private matters to anyone outside the family unit. The feeling was that the victim had probably done something to provoke the violence, creating an environment of shame for the victim.
Public awareness and outrage, ignited by massive media attention to celebrity domestic violence cases and the increased local news stories about the problem, broke the code of silence in American culture.
Domestic Abuse Laws – Are They Enough?
Are the domestic abuse laws written in federal statutes and individual state legal code enough to help empower victims to seek the safety of law enforcement? No legal statutes addressing the crime of domestic violence works perfectly, but needs regular re-evaluation and adjustments to reflect changing societal norms. Legal protections include:
- Emergency Protective Order – This temporary order lasts 5 to 7 days, depending on the issuing state. Police issue this order to the victim of domestic abuse immediately after receiving a complaint that an incidence has occurred or is occurring. The order requires that the abuser stay away from the victim. Any violation of the specific requirements of an emergency protective order usually results in an arrest of the violator.
- Restraining Order – If you feel threatened by a spouse, cohabitation partner, or other person living in your primary residence, file a motion requesting a restraining order with the court in your area. In essence, your filing requests that the court legally restrict a specific person from contacting you or approaching you at home or in public. If the person violates the order, he or she is in contempt of court and will be arrested.
- Violence Against Women Act (VAWA)– Listed in Title IV of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, the VAWA forever altered the landscape for those who once suffered (and sometimes died) in silence. The Act provided for establishment of the National Domestic Violence Hotline, which receives over 20,000 calls for assistance each month. In addition, the VAWA recognizes domestic violence, adult and teenage dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking as criminal offenses that Americans will not tolerate.
Law Enforcement Attitudes Toward Domestic Violence Cases
The majority of law enforcement officers take domestic violence cases very seriously. Many of them witness the devastating effects domestic abuse can have on all those involved, while carrying out their sworn duties each day. Frequently, by the time they arrive at the scene of reported abuse, the victim who called for help has decided against pressing charges. Refusal to press charges against an abuser eliminates the power a concerned police officer has to help victims.
Domestic Abuse Laws - Penalties and Sentencing
While federal laws cover and prosecute acts of interstate domestic violence, the majority of domestic abuse laws are statutes of individual states. Because most domestic violence cases are handled at the state and local level, the penalties and sentences for domestic abusers vary with location. Most states require that all offenders complete a treatment course to prevent repeat domestic violence offenses.
First time offenses that do not result in medically serious or catastrophic injury to the victim fall into one of the misdemeanor offense category levels. Typically, first time offenders receive probation, but this depends on the individual circumstances of the case. Felony penalties apply when the offender has a previous domestic violence conviction and has committed a second serious offense, such as stalking, rape, or threatened serious harm or death. Sentencing for repeat offenders almost always includes jail time.
Last Updated: 26 May 2016
Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD