Anyone can experience domestic violence. It is not limited to any gender, sexual orientation, race, age, religion, or socioeconomic status. Despite this reality, many victims of domestic violence in the District of Columbia and elsewhere struggle to seek help and protection. Despite the abuse, they may still love their abuser and not want to see them suffer consequences. They may feel financially trapped, seeing no option but to remain in an abusive relationship. And often, survivors of domestic violence feel ashamed, despite the fact that the abuse isn’t their fault.

If you have experienced domestic violence in DC, know that you deserve to live in peace and safety. If you cannot leave an abusive situation on your own, an experienced domestic violence attorney can help you.

Who Commits Domestic Violence in DC?

Domestic violence doesn’t just take place between spouses. Domestic violence may involve criminal acts by a current spouse, an ex-spouse, or someone with whom the victim shares a child. Domestic violence in DC also includes acts by a current or former dating partner, a person with whom the victim lives or has lived, or situations in which the victim and offender have a biological or legal parent-child relationship.

In the District of Columbia, people who are married or in a romantic, dating, or sexual relationship (or seeking to be in such a relationship) are referred to as “intimate partners.” People who are related by blood, adoption, domestic partnership, or legal custody are considered “family members.” Victims of violent acts committed by a family ​​member or intimate partner can seek legal help through the Domestic Violence Division of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia.

Acts That Constitute Domestic Violence

The definition of domestic violence extends beyond physical injury. While many acts of domestic violence involve physical violence, you can get protection for other types of behavior that are considered domestic violence in DC. Some examples of domestic violence include:

Physical Abuse

  • Kicking, shoving, biting, pulling hair, choking, or striking someone with an open hand, closed fist, or an object
  • Throwing an object at someone with the intention of hitting them
  • Threatening or injuring someone with a gun, knife, or other weapon
  • Burning or branding someone
  • Denying someone needed medicine or medical care
  • Forcing someone to consume drugs or alcohol against their will

Sexual Abuse

  • Forcing or coercing someone to have sexual contact without their consent
  • Injuring someone on their privates
  • Treating someone in a sexually demeaning manner
  • Forcing someone to perform sexual acts on another person or on the internet
  • Forcing someone to pose for sexually explicit photos or to be video-recorded performing sexual acts against their will
  • Human trafficking

Psychological Abuse

  • Causing fear by intimidation
  • Threatening suicide to exert control over someone
  • Harming or threatening to harm someone or their pets or family members to exert control over them
  • Destroying someone’s personal property
  • Stalking or cyberstalking

In short, any act that is considered criminal conduct in the District of Columbia constitutes an “intrafamily offense” for which a victim can seek a domestic violence protective order.

Typically, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia will usually file criminal charges when someone is arrested for domestic violence. If they do, you will not be a party to the criminal case; it will be the U.S. Attorney’s Office against the offender. However, as the victim of the crime, you might be called as a witness. Because you are not a party to the case, the decision whether to drop charges that have been filed will be up to the prosecutor, not you.

How to Get a Domestic Violence Protective Order

The first thing to do if you are in danger of domestic violence is to get yourself to safety as soon as possible. The next step is to seek a protective order through the Domestic Violence Division of the Superior Court.

The court clerk can give you the necessary forms and petitions to complete. You will need to fill them out with the relationship between you and the offender and details of acts they have committed that lead you to seek protection. If there is reason to believe you are in immediate danger, you may be granted a temporary protective order (TPO) without a hearing.

Because a protective order can limit the offender’s movements and freedoms, a temporary order is not in place for long—just long enough to schedule a hearing at which the offender has the right to appear and tell their version of events. The offender must be served with a copy of your petition and any protective order; this is usually handled by a law enforcement officer. If the judge determines after the hearing that the evidence warrants continuing the protection, a civil protection order (CPO) is put in place, usually for a year.

If an offender violates a TPO or a CPO, they can be arrested. Although the orders themselves are civil in nature, violating a protective order is a crime.

If You Have Been Accused of Domestic Violence in DC

If you have been accused of or charged with domestic violence in DC, you should take it very seriously, even if you know the accusations are false. A conviction of domestic violence or violating a protective order can affect every aspect of your life, including:

  • Your freedom
  • Your relationships and reputation
  • Custody and visitation of your children
  • Your employment
  • Your ability to possess firearms
  • Your immigration status

You still have legal rights if you are accused of domestic violence. You deserve to have a fair legal process, and you should speak to an attorney.

How an Attorney Helps in District of Columbia Domestic Violence Cases

Whether you have been a victim of domestic violence or have been accused of domestic violence in DC, there is a great deal at stake. Persuading the judge in your case of your version of the facts is essential. An experienced family law attorney can help you protect yourself, your family, and your rights, presenting the evidence in the light most favorable to your case. An attorney can also help you to feel supported in what can be an intimidating situation.

To learn more about domestic violence in DC and how to obtain or defend against a protective order, contact Strickler, Platnick & Hatfield to schedule a consultation.