October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month - Understanding The Facts & Legal Options

Trigger Warning: Domestic Violence

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Domestic violence is more prevalent than most people realize. According to the data from hotline.org, each minute in the United States, 24 people become victims of domestic violence, including more than 12 million people per year. Domestic violence crosses gender lines with 35.6 percent of women and 29.5 percent of men experiencing this at some point in their lifetime. Domestic violence can happen to anyone - regardless of race, sexual preferences, age or socioeconomic status.

Understanding Domestic Violence

Many people have too narrow a view of what domestic violence includes. Domestic violence is actually a broad set of behaviors. The National Domestic Violence Hotline defines domestic violence as “a pattern of behaviors used by one partner to maintain power and control over another partner in an intimate relationship.”

Domestic violence can include:

  • Verbal abuse
  • Threatening
  • Stalking
  • Sexual coercion
  • Sexual abuse
  • Reproductive coercion
  • Physical abuse
  • Manipulation
  • Financial abuse
  • Emotional abuse
  • Digital abuse
  • Controlling

Domestic abuse can be perpetrated against not only an intimate partner, but their children, family members, and pets. Abusers themselves include not only intimate partners, but family members, or household members.

What to Do if You Experience Domestic Violence

The most important thing to do if you experience domestic violence is to get yourself to a safe place. There are several ways to accomplish this.

  • If an incident is currently underway, you can call 911. In New York state there is a mandatory arrest law. This means if called to the scene of a domestic violence incident, the police must make an arrest if there is reasonable cause to believe domestic violence has been committed. They are not permitted to ask the victim if they want the abuser arrested. Note, however, that a mandatory arrest does not necessarily mean an immediate arrest. If both parties are considered to be mutual abusers, a mandatory arrest does not apply.
  • At any time you are able to, you can leave and stay with a friend, at another home you own, with a family member, or at a domestic violence shelter.
  • You can make a plan to leave in the future. Talking with a domestic violence shelter in your area can be helpful in making a plan.
  • If your child is abused, you can call 911 to report an ongoing incident. If an incident has happened in the past, you can call the New York State child abuse hotline at 1-800-342-3720.

Who Can Get a Protective Order

Family Court in New York hears all civil domestic abuse cases. You can seek help from the court if your abuser is:

  • Your current or former spouse
  • A person with whom you share a child
  • A family member, by either blood or by marriage
  • A person you have had an intimate relationship with (not necessarily sexual)

Protections the Court Can Offer You

Family Court can offer a wide range of protections, including:

  • A stay away order: This requires your abuser to stay away from you, your home (or anywhere you are living), your workplace, your children, your children’s school, and any other place the court finds necessary. The court can impose a certain distance that must be kept.
  • An order refraining from specific conduct: The court can order your abuser to stop abusing you and your children, stop threatening you, stop stalking you, stop calling you, and stop texting you.
  • A no-contact order: This is similar to the above, but it specifically tells your abuser they cannot have any contact with you or your children. This order can be applied even if you live in the same home.
  • A firearms order: The court can revoke or suspend the abuser’s firearms license and require them to surrender all of their firearms while the order is in place.
  • An exclusive occupancy order: The court can give you exclusive occupancy of a home you share and direct the abuser to move out.
  • An order to collect belongings: If you do not plan to return to your shared home, the court can set up a time when you can go collect your belongings and direct the abuser to stay away during the time period.
  • An order for child custody: The court can establish temporary child custody, giving the victim sole custody while the order is in effect.
  • An order for child support: The court can also order that child support be paid by your abuser for the length of the protective order if you have custody of the child or children.

All of the above items can be included in what is called an Order of Protection (OOP). You might also hear this called a protective order, restraining order, no-contact order, or an injunction for protection.

Types of Domestic Violence Orders

There are several types of domestic violence orders that New York courts handle.

Ex parte order: When the victim of domestic violence files for an order of protection, the court can issue it immediately, without hearing from the alleged abuser. This is set up so that victims can be immediately protected and so that all violence will be immediately stopped.

Permanent order of protection: After a hearing, the court can issue a permanent order of protection. This type of order lasts for two years, or five if there are aggravating circumstances.

Foreign order of protection: An order of protection granted by another state is considered “foreign” since it was not issued by a New York court. New York police and courts must give full faith and credit to orders issued by another state. This means they must enforce them.

Why Getting Help Is Hard?

Articles like this make it seem so easy to an outsider. Call the police. Call your attorney. Call a shelter. Leave. Go to a shelter. It’s easy to write those things, but they can be very hard to do if you are living in a domestic violence situation. Domestic abuse is about power and control. Deciding to leave can mean dealing with:

  • Shame
  • Self-esteem
  • Love for the abuser
  • Lack of resources
  • Intimidation
  • Immigration issues
  • Fear
  • Family issues
  • Disabilities
  • Cultural or religious expectations and roles
  • Children
  • Anxiety

Any one of those issues alone is a lot to deal with. Many victims deal with many on the list. Staying is hard. Leaving is hard. You may need help to be able to take the step of leaving.

Where to Get Help

If you need help with domestic violence, remember that you should always call 911 if you are in immediate danger. If not, there are some options available to you.

  • A friend or family member who can help you get assistance
  • Your attorney, who can help you file for an order of protection
  • The New York State 24 Hour Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-942-6906
  • The National Domestic Violence 24 Hour Hotline at 1-800-799-7233
  • Safe Harbor New York City Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-621-HOPE (800-621-4673)


Naomi Schanfield

Naomi Schanfield concentrates on all aspects of matrimonial and family law, including, prenuptial and postnuptial agreements, divorce, equitable distribution, child custody and visitation, support matters, family offense disputes, and domestic violence.

To connect with Naomi: 212.682.6222 | Online

For media inquiries or speaking engagements: [hidden email]