If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic violence, don’t wait to report it. For starters, many states have mandatory reporting laws for certain professionals, including teachers and health care workers. But even if you are not required by state law to report domestic violence, doing so is the best way to stop abuse before it gets worse. If you are unsure of your legal responsibilities to report suspected domestic violence, an experienced family law attorney can help.
What is Domestic Violence?
The definition of domestic violence varies from state to state. But federal law defines it as “any violence that occurs between two people who share a home, or have shared one in the past.” Intimate partner violence is among the most commonly known types of domestic violence, but it’s important to understand that this type of abuse can occur in all kinds of relationships. Family members, roommates, and caregivers can all commit this heinous act.
If you suspect that you are a victim of domestic violence, ask yourself the following questions. Does someone you live with:
- physically hurt you, by punching, hitting, pushing, pulling at hair or clothing, or using weapons such as knives or guns to intimidate or injure you?
- regularly berate you, raise their voice at you, call you names, or ridicule you in public? Do they threaten you, your children, your pets, or other family members to get you to do what they want?
- force you to have sex with them, or engage in sexual activity with them, even when you don’t want to? Do they forbid you from using any form of birth control?
- control your finances? Have they ever stolen money from you or denied you access to your money?
- show little regard for your possessions, either by destroying or stealing them?
- try to control where you go and who you see? Do they forbid you from leaving home, coerce you or physically force you to go somewhere else, or forbid you from seeing or talking to certain people? Do they repeatedly try to contact you while you are with other people?
If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you may be a victim of domestic violence.
I am a Victim of Domestic Violence. How Can I Get Help?
For starters, know that you are not alone. More than 10 million people in the U.S. experience some form of domestic abuse every year. You deserve help and safety, and you can get it.
If you are being abused, don’t hesitate to call 911 in an emergency. Domestic violence is severely underreported, and if you decide to press charges, having police reports and 911 call logs can be invaluable to your case.
A qualified attorney will review your case and ensure that you fully understand your rights and options before moving forward. You are in control of this process and can decide to what extent to pursue legal action. Some victims of domestic violence file for a restraining order, while others press charges against their abuser. Your lawyer can advise you on which course of action to take if you are unsure.
A family law attorney with experience in domestic violence should understand the emotional complexities of these cases. If your attorney doesn’t seem compassionate to your highly-sensitive situation, find another one immediately.
I Have Witnessed or Suspect Domestic Violence. What Do I Do?
If you have witnessed abuse, do not take matters into your own hands by intervening. Well-meaning witnesses can often worsen the situation, making it more dangerous for themselves and the abuse victim. Instead, call 911 as you witness the event. Remain at the scene, if you can do so without endangering yourself or others, to tell authorities what you saw or heard. You may be asked to testify in court.
If you suspect that you or someone you know is a victim of abuse, do not wait to act. Get in touch with a domestic violence program in your area to ask for resources. They can help you decide how to move forward. If you are comfortable, start a conversation with the suspected victim. Encourage them to seek help from a shelter or domestic violence program, or a lawyer.
Above all, respect the victim’s autonomy and follow their lead on whatever path they decide to take. Keep yourself open to the victim as a source of support, and have a list of community resources and legal contact information on hand. If you are worried about your safety as the witness of abuse, contact a lawyer to learn what protections may be available to you.
Am I Required to Report Abuse?
Mandatory reporting laws require that certain individuals file a report with law enforcement if they know or have reason to believe that someone is being abused. Who is required to report depends on the state, but the most common examples are healthcare providers, clinical social workers, and education professionals.
In some states, mandatory reporting laws apply to any individual who knows or reasonably suspects abuse. Regardless of what field you work in, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with your state’s mandatory reporting laws.
Even if you are not mandated to report abuse, you can choose to voluntarily report as a permissive reporter. Since reporting early and often is crucial to stopping abuse before it worsens, most states who have listed mandatory reporters encourage permissive reporting. Permissive reporters are usually offered certain protections, such as anonymity.
If you are unsure of your legal responsibility concerning mandatory reporting, a family lawyer can help you determine what actions to take.