The law says that just about anything an abuser does to hurt or threaten
to hurt you or your children is illegal and must be stopped. This includes
everything from hitting, slapping, or kicking you to coming at you with
a weapon or threatening to hurt or kill you or your children. The law
specifically defines domestic violence as one of three things:
Threats that put you in fear of immediate and serious harm (this
means that you were fearful that the harm would occur right now--
not tonight, tomorrow, or next week);
Any act with respect to a child that would result in that child being
Domestic violence is not a means of obtaining temporary custody unless
there is some actual violence or threat of immediate violence to you or
the children. A threat to 'take the kids,' name-calling, arguing that
involves no violence or threat of violence are not sufficient grounds
for temporary custody due to domestic violence. Furthermore, domestic
violence is not a means of obtaining a quick and cheap divorce.
You don't have to be married to the abuser to obtain legal protection.
The law applies to any household or family member. Household or family
member is defined as: a spouse, an ex-spouse, a parent or child, a step-parent
or step-child, other persons related to the abuser who reside in the home
or have resided in the home with the abuser in the last 5 years including:
boyfriends, girlfriends, or their children who are living together in
the last 5 years, and those who have children in common even when they
have never lived together or paternity has not been established. In Ohio,
the law also protects same-sex partners. Danger often increases once a
marriage or relationship ends. This is often the time when legal protection
is most needed for your safety. You have basically two legal options when
domestic violence has occurred: criminal charges and/or civil remedies.
The Criminal Option Potential benefits of criminal charges include: a
temporary protection order mandating that the abuser stay away from you
and your children throughout the criminal proceedings, possible fine and/or
jail time for the abuser, court-ordered treatment/counseling for the abuser,
and possible probation for the abuser.
If you choose to file a criminal charge, you will need to contact the
prosecutor's office in your county--a local domestic violence hotline
can give you this number. You do not need an attorney to file criminal
charges. A criminal charge is the STATE-vs.-the abuser, not you-vs.-the
abuser, but you will be the key witness for the state. This means that
the state is holding the abuser accountable for the violence.
Once you file a criminal charge and the prosecutor accepts it, the case
belongs to the state. Therefore, only the state can make the decision
to drop the case at any point. Even if you later want to drop the criminal
charge, the state may not allow you to do this because it is the state's
case and the state's decision.
Prosecutors' offices around the state vary greatly: some have 'no-drop
policies,' and some will drop charges at the victim's request. A trained
advocate in your area should know the philosophy of your prosecutor and
may be available to help you through this process and to provide moral
support. Contact your local domestic violence hotline for assistance.
Procedures in a criminal case may be very slow as prosecutors and police
officers gather evidence for the case. An advocate can offer invaluable
support at this time.
Remember that the criminal protection order lasts only until the case
is resolved. This means that you could lose your protection and not know
it (if the case is settled in a plea bargain, for example). Your advocate
can be a valuable resource and may be able to keep you informed about
the case. Still, to ensure your protection, it is often wise to consider
civil action as well.
The Civil Option
If you choose to pursue civil action as a victim of domestic violence,
you can receive a protection order mandating the abuser to stay away from
you and your children for up to five years. Through this protection order
(if granted), you may receive: use of the residence (the abuser may be
evicted even if the home is in the abuser's name), temporary custody of
the child(ren) with visitation arrangements, court-ordered treatment or
counseling for the abuser, alimony/child support, division of household
items, and/or use of a car.
Unlike criminal charges, you may dismiss a civil petition at any time
for personal reasons. A domestic violence advocate may be available to
help you understand your local civil court and offer moral support. No
matter what you choose to do, remember that a protection order obtained
either through criminal or civil court is a piece of paper. It does give
you back some control because the abuser may go to jail if the protection
order is violated. Keep in mind, though, that some abusers feel challenged
by such an order. You know better than anyone how your abuser will react
to legal action. If you think it will put you in more danger, you may
choose not to pursue legal action. Either way, remember to talk with a
domestic violence advocate about devising a safety plan for you and your
Many victims feel that the safest thing for them to do is to pursue both
criminal and civil action. It is a good idea to consider the civil protection
order regardless of whether or not you have a criminal protection order
because the civil protection order lasts longer and offers more relief.
The United States Constitution provides what is called 'Full Faith and
Credit,' which means that once you have a criminal or a civil protection
order, it follows you wherever you go--even if you cross county or state
lines. If you do travel, it is a good idea to contact the local police
where you are staying to inform them that you have a protection order
and that you may need them to enforce it. This may make the police more
responsive should you need their assistance.
The services of a legal domestic violence advocate can be invaluable whether
or not you choose to pursue legal action. The legal advocate can walk
you through the processes involved, go to court with you, provide additional
resources to you, and explain in detail your options and the philosophies
of the courts in your area.
For example, although the remedies available are the same in every county
in the state, some counties will always make an abuser spend time in jail
on a criminal charge, while some counties will always award probation.
Similarly, in civil cases, some courts tend to issue five-year protection
orders, and some courts issue only six-month protection orders. Your advocate
can tell you what your local courts do, and this can help you plan future
action to stay safe.
Studies have shown that obtaining a protection order may bolster a victim's
self-esteem and feelings of security. A 1994 study found that nearly 75%
of victim's had increased feelings of well-being soon after an order was
issued. Thousands and thousands of women have used the law to help increase
their safety. You can too.