The “What” And “Who” Of Domestic Violence

The WHAT: “Violence”

What exactly constitutes domestic violence against another person? Is physical contact required? Or are threatening words enough? Although the crux of domestic violence is defined similarly across state lines, many legislatures express subtle distinctions from one another in their definitions of this unlawful behavior. Therefore, a potential victim must research the law in the jurisdiction in which the “abuse” occurred.

In California, the Family Code provides the most cohesive definition of domestic violence. The sections dealing with domestic violence are collectively known as the “Domestic Violence Prevention Act (“DVPA”). Section 6203 of the DVPA uses the word “abuse” synonymously with the word “violence.” These two words can be defined as any of the following:

(1) Intentionally or recklessly causing or attempting to cause bodily injury

(2) Sexual assault

(3) Placing a person in reasonable apprehension of imminent serious bodily injury to their person or the person of another. Many legal minds provide a more expansive definition of domestic violence, and even classify such behavior into different groups

o PHYSICAL ABUSE: Grabbing, pinching, shoving, slapping, hitting, hair pulling, biting, etc. Denying medical care or forcing alcohol and/or drug use.

o SEXUAL ABUSE: Coercing or attempting to coerce any sexual contact without consent, e.g., marital rape, forcing sex after physical beating, attacks on sexual parts of the body or treating another in a sexually demeaning manner.

o ECONOMIC ABUSE: Making or attempting to make a person financially dependent, e.g., maintaining total control over financial resources, withholding access to money, forbidding attendance at school or employment.

o EMOTIONAL ABUSE: Undermining a person’s sense of self-worth, e.g., constant criticism, belittling one’s abilities, name calling, damaging a partner’s relationship with the children.

o PSYCHOLOGICAL ABUSE: Causing fear by intimidation, threatening physical harm to self, partner or children, destruction of pets and property, mind games or forcing isolation from friends, family, school and/or work. The common thread here is clear: all domestic violence is a pattern of abusive behavior which keeps one partner in a position of power over another close person in their life through the use of fear, intimidation and control.

THE WHO: “Domestic”

Who can commit domestic violence against you? Can a victim only plead domestic violence against his or her spouse? His or her boyfriend? A live-in partner? In essence, a discussion of what types of relationships give rise to the potential for domestic violence has forced the California Legislature to determine exactly what they mean by the word “domestic” in the phrase “domestic violence.”

Section 6211 of the DVPA states that “domestic violence” is abuse perpetrated against any of the following persons:

(1) A spouse or former spouse

(2) A cohabitant or former cohabitant

(3) A person with whom the respondent is having or has had a dating or engagement relationship

(4) A person with whom the respondent has had a child, where the presumption applies that the male parent is the father of the child of the female parent under the Uniform Parentage Act

(5) A child of a party or a child who is the subject of an action under the Uniform Parentage Act, where the presumption applies that the male parent is the father of the child to be protected;

(6) Any other person related by consanguinity or affinity within the second degree. (Family Code, Division 10, PREVENTION OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE, Part 1., Sec. 6211).

In lay terms, the following people can commit domestic violence against you in California:

o your spouse or former spouse.

o someone you live with or lived with in the past (but you must have a closer, more intimate relationship than just “roommates”)

o someone you are dating or have dated

o someone you have a child with

o someone to whom you are related by blood, marriage, or adoption (including your parent, grandparent, child, grandchild, brother, or sister) In addition, California law allows minors 12 years old or older to file for restraining orders without the assistance of a parent or guardian.

Furthermore, same-sex partners are also eligible to file for restraining orders.

The two most important buzzwords to think of in determining whether the violence against you is domestic are “family” and “intimacy.” The likelihood of violence being domestic when the perpetrator is either family or one you share intimacy with is extremely high. In order to obtain legal relief, a victim must sufficiently inform the court of both the “WHAT” and the “WHO” in domestic violence. Notwithstanding, simply because a victim’s abuse does not fit within the aforementioned categories does not mean other non-legal help is unavailable.

Copyright 2006 Law Offices of Donald P. Schweitzer