According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), 20 people per minute are abused by an intimate partner in their life. Domestic violence is defined as violence or abuse (physical or emotional) against a spouse or intimate partner.
The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) which passed in the federal legislature in 1994 made domestic violence and abuse a federal crime, but state laws can affect outcomes in domestic abuse cases. In South Carolina, Criminal Domestic Violence (CDV) carries misdemeanor charges for Domestic Violence Third Degree and Second Degree. Domestic Violence first degree and Domestic Violence of a High and Aggravated Nature are felony charges. There are also some cases in which the first or second offense of domestic abuse can result in a felony, in cases where the accusations are particularly extreme.
The result of these conflicting legal statutes is that many people don’t understand what domestic violence really is, so they don’t tend to recognize it when it is (or isn’t) happening.
Here’s a breakdown of what to look for to decide whether or not a friend or loved one being affected by domestic violence, and when legal action is warranted.
First, What Is Domestic Violence?
According to SC law, domestic violence is the threat of physical harm or physical harm between the following parties:
- People who live together or have lived together in the past
- People who are married or were married previously
- People who have a child together
Recognizing domestic violence requires having a clear understanding of the signs of domestic violence and abuse. If you or someone you know is the victim of domestic violence, get to a safe situation without putting yourself in any additional danger.
The major issue with these incidents is that fights and arguments are common among married couples, parents and people who live together, and the line between normal conflict and domestic abuse is blurry.
It’s true that thousands of people are victims of domestic abuse each year in SC alone, but thousands more are falsely accused or accused in the heat of the moment by a spouse or other intimate partner. Society has put such an emphasis on making sure victims of domestic violence are safe (which is extremely important), but less attention has gone toward making sure rights and interests are protected in frequent cases of false accusations.
As important as it is to ensure that victims of domestic abuse are kept safe, it’s also crucial to ensure that law-abiding citizens don’t have their lives ruined by false accusations from a spiteful partner. This is why it’s important to have access to a criminal defense attorney who has seen domestic violence charges from both sides of the courtroom (as a prosecutor and a defense attorney) and can make informed judgments about these situations.
Who Does Domestic Violence Affect?
Across the United States, there are clear trends in the victims of domestic abuse. For example, as of a 2002 survey performed by the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), 73% of DV victims were women. In 2000, males made up 77% of the arrests resulting from family violence incidents reported to law enforcement.
This has shaped the way we view domestic violence, for better or for worse. When we picture a scenario of domestic violence, some may envision a large man and a small woman, with the male as the aggressor in almost all cases. That’s why, when accusations fly, it’s easy to assume that this is the case. An important part of understanding the signs of domestic abuse is understanding that it can and does happen to anyone, not just a specific class of people. Domestic violence does not discriminate by gender, age, education, religion, race, or economic status.
Signs of Domestic Violence
One of the reasons why domestic violence is so notoriously difficult to recognize is that the victims often deny that anything wrong is happening out of love for their partner. When domestic violence occurs in a passionate exchange, the aggressor is typically very apologetic afterward, causing the victim to deny that the incident occurred. The cycle of abuse repeats as the victim condones the abuser’s behavior. Or, the victim may feel he or she cannot financially support themselves without the help of the abuser. Some victims would be embarrassed by the thought of a separation or divorce. Some victims don’t leave because they want their child or children to have two parents and a seemingly stable home environment.
This is one of the issues with recognizing domestic violence. If a friend or loved one has mysterious bruises or is being very private about their intimate affairs, it may mean that there is domestic violence or abuse in play. On the other hand, reporting it with little evidence can result in the case not being prosecuted on the grounds of not enough probable cause existing. False accusations can damage to the alleged abuser’s reputation.
Even if you suspect that someone is a victim, you shouldn’t escalate the situation until you’re sure. Some signs of domestic violence are when you witness one of the following:
- Controlling, degrading, or manipulative behavior directed at the victim
- Harassment, including stalking or threatening behavior
- Evidence of physical or sexual abuse
- Victim not having access to finances
- Victim being physically or emotionally isolated from friends and family because of the abuser’s bullying
How Can You Help a Friend or Loved One?
If you suspect that a friend or loved one is experiencing domestic abuse or violence from an intimate partner, there are ways you can help them:
- Talk to them: have your loved one explain the situation from their point of view. Sometimes the input of a rational third-party can separate real domestic violence from normal, problematic, behavior.
- Help them plan an escape route: Even if no domestic abuse has occurred, your loved one is perfectly within their rights to report that they don’t feel safe, and leave the situation and possibly obtain a restraining order. The plan should include the victim getting away from the abuser without causing any additional conflict.
- Review SC domestic violence laws: Make sure your loved one is aware of when a rocky relationship crosses the line into domestic violence
Resources to Help Victims of Domestic Violence
If you or your loved one suspects that they are a victim of domestic violence, there are several resources on both the national and local levels to help stay safe and get the support they need:
The National Domestic Violence Hotline:
The NDVH provides a network of support for the victims of DV and access to local and national survivors’ groups.
The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence:
The NCADV gives victims access to local resources to help keep them safe during and after proceedings involved with domestic violence charges.
Family and Youth Services Bureau:
The FYSB is a federal program sponsored by the US Department of Health and Human Services that gives victims and their children resources like hotlines and local shelters when they feel unsafe or need help with nearly anything.
The Bottom Line
Domestic violence and abuse are pervasive and serious, and victims should have access to many resources to keep them safe when the worst happens to them. It’s important to understand, though, what the difference is between cases that are domestic violence and those that aren’t.
If you’ve been accused of domestic violence, it can turn your life upside down. Contact the Law Office of Susan E. Williams to explore your options.