If you have been abused, think you have been abused, or believe someone you care about is being abused, you should understand that domestic violence abuse victims have many rights. One out of every four women experiences domestic abuse at some point in their lives. At the same time, domestic violence is an extremely underreported crime, with many people afraid to seek help and enforce their rights. Here is what you need to know if you are experiencing domestic violence in New York state.
What is Domestic Violence?
There is no specific domestic violence crime under New York law. Instead, any crime which is perpetrated against an intimate partner is considered domestic violence. It includes stalking, harassment, assault, sexual misconduct, threats, theft, coercion, intimidation, strangulation, menacing, and any other act that is a crime by itself. Domestic violence includes not only physical acts, but also emotional control or abuse, sexual control or abuse, economic control or abuse, and mental control or abuse.
Who is Protected?
New York provides a wide definition of an intimate partner. It includes not only spouses, co-parents, and people who are dating or living together, but also extended family (siblings, nieces/nephews, cousins, etc.), in-laws, anyone who lives in the same home, and people who used to date.
How Are Domestic Violence Cases Handled
Domestic violence cases can be handled through the criminal system, the family court system, or both. A case becomes a criminal matter if there is an arrest. It is a family court matter if a petition is filed in family court seeking an order of protection.
Orders of Protection
You can receive a temporary order of protection when your abuser is arrested or when you file a petition in family court. A permanent order can then be put in place at a later hearing. An order of protection instructs your abuser to:
- Stay away from you, your children, your place of work or school, and places that you regularly frequent. The order can state a specific distance the abuser must keep between you.
- Have no contact with you, including texts, emails, messages, mail, and phone calls.
- Refrain from certain acts such as crimes, but also including bullying on social media or specific things that are a problem in your particular case.
- Give up their firearms and firearms license while the order is in effect.
- Allow you exclusive occupancy of the home you share.
- Follow a child custody order included in the order.
- Pay child support.
Your Rights as a Victim
In addition to asking that your abuser be prosecuted under the state’s criminal laws and receiving an order of protection, you have a wide variety of rights under New York state law that you should be aware of:
- The right to a mandatory arrest of your abuser. If you call 911, the police are required to arrest your abuser if the abuser:
- Committed a felony against you
- Committed a family offense against you, or
- Violated an existing order of protection
You then have the right to a free copy of the incident report relating to the situation.
- The right to get help. The Violence Against Women Act provides that anyone experiencing domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking is entitled to protection under the law, regardless of their sex, gender identity, or sexual orientation. You cannot be ignored or turned away because you are a same sex couple or if one or both of you are trans.
- The right to access hotlines, support groups, shelter, and counseling. New York state provides free domestic violence assistance in every county which anyone can access.
- The right to confidentiality within the case. The court must use a substitute address for you in the court proceeding to protect your actual home address from the abuser.
- Protection against eviction. You cannot be evicted from your home because you are a victim of domestic violence.
- The right to lease bifurcation. If you are living with your abuser, New York gives you the right to bifurcate your lease (separate it out so you can remain in the home if your abuser is removed).
- The right to break your lease. If you have an order of protection, you are allowed to break your lease and move elsewhere. If your landlord does not allow you to do so, the court that issued the order of protection can break your lease.
- The right not to be refused housing. You cannot be denied a lease because you are a victim of domestic violence.
- The right to be treated fairly at work. Your employer cannot treat you differently than other employees because of the domestic violence. This includes changing where you work, denying you a promotion, changing your responsibilities, changes to your pay, and more. In New York City, you are entitled to reasonable accommodations at work if you are the victim of domestic violence.
- The right to an absentee ballot. You can obtain a special absentee ballot, so you do not have to appear in person to vote.
- The right to health insurance confidentiality. If your abuser is the primary subscriber for a health insurance policy that covers you, you have the right to require the health insurance company to keep your address and phone number confidential from the abuser, as well the name, location, and contact information for any health insurance providers you or your child uses.
- The right to obtain unemployment benefits. If you leave your job due to domestic violence, you have the right to unemployment benefits.
- The right to no-fault divorce. If you are married to your abuser, you can seek a divorce without giving or proving any reason.
- The right to free license, registration, or license plate replacement. If your case is handled through the criminal system, there is no charge for replacing any of these if your abuser stole, damaged, or hid these from you.
- The right to be notified when your abuser is released. If your abuser was incarcerated for the crime, you must be notified when they are released (or if they escape).
If you are in immediate danger or threat of danger, call 911. You can also call the New York State Domestic and Sexual Violence Hotline at 1-800-942-6906 or the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 at any time. You have the right to an attorney who can protect your interests and those of your family, and the experienced lawyers at Bikel and Schanfield are ready to protect all of your rights.