10 Things You Need to Know About Domestic Violence and the Law

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Domestic violence is a crime. It’s a crime that not only impacts the victim, but can have a lasting effect on loved ones, family members, friends and colleagues as well.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention define domestic violence as a “serious, preventable public health problem that affects millions of Americans.” It’s a crime that can cause serious emotional injury, physical injury and even death. In fact, nearly half of all female homicide victims are killed by a current or former male intimate partner.

If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic violence it’s never too late to take action to end the hurt and begin to heal. Contact 911 or the police right away if you feel you or your family are in danger. After you are safe, it is a good idea to consult with a knowledgeable attorney so that he or she can help to ensure you and your family’s ongoing safety and help protect your rights.

When faced with domestic violence there are ten things you should know:

  1. Domestic Violence is a Violent Act Committed Between Individuals that Have or Have Had a Personal Relationship

North Carolina law defines domestic violence as one of the below acts, by an individual, upon a victim with whom such individual has or has had a personal relationship or upon a minor child of the victim:

  • intentionally causes bodily injury, or
  • attempts to cause bodily injury, or
  • places a victim or member of the victim’s family or household in fear of imminent and serious injury or harassment so as to inflict substantial emotional distress, or
  • rape and other sex offenses.

For such acts to be considered domestic violence under the statute the individual and the victim must have or have had a “personal relationship.” A personal relationship includes:

  • current or former spouses;
  • persons of the opposite sex who live together or lived together in the past;
  • are related as parent and child or as grandparent and grandchild;
  • have a child in common;
  • are current or former household members; or
  • are persons of the opposite sex in a dating relationship.
  1. Domestic Violence is Common

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), “nearly twenty people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States.” This alarming statistic equates to more than 10 million victims per year suffering at the hands of someone close to them. One in three women and one in four men have been a victim of domestic violence in their lifetime. Additionally, there are more than 20,000 phone calls made per day to domestic hotlines nationwide. As with many crimes, domestic violence is likely underreported and therefore these alarming statistics could be much higher.

  1. Domestic Violence Can Happen to Anyone

We’ve all seen the headlines in newspapers where famous actors, athletes, rock stars, and politicians have been accused of, or victimized by, allegations of domestic abuse. The sad reality is that domestic violence can happen to anyone. This is true regardless of age, race, sexual orientation, religion or gender. It is important that we as a society are aware of this truth and take notice of warning signs that our loved ones, friends, neighbors and co-workers may display.

  1. Domestic Violence Can Have a Devastating Impact on Victims’ Lives

The impact of domestic violence on victims can be devastating physically, mentally, emotionally and financially. Studies show the women who have been abused may suffer long-term effects such as anxiety, depression, chronic pain, death, dehydration, dissociative states, drug and alcohol abuse, eating disorders, emotional numbing, health problems, malnutrition, panic attacks, poverty, self-injury, self-neglect, sleep disorders, sexual dysfunction, strained relationships, suicide attempts, and an inability to adequately respond to the needs of her children.

In addition to the physical and mental anguish suffered by domestic violence victims, they can also find themselves in a difficult financial situation. For those that have injuries as a result of physical abuse, medical bills can be costly. Many will also have the additional burden of mental-health care costs as well as possible relocation expenses and childcare costs.

Society as a whole is financially impacted by domestic violence as well. Each year the cost of violence caused by intimate partners is over $5.8 billion. This estimate includes medical care, mental health services and loss of work.

  1. Domestic Violence Impacts Future Generations

Estimates show that more than 3.3 million children are exposed to spousal abuse each year. The effects of such are far-reaching. For example, infants and toddlers that witness violence have shown excessive irritability, sleep disturbances, regression in toilet training and language, emotional distress, and fear of being alone. As the child gets older he or she can face academic problems, aggression, behavior problems, depression, fear, feelings of not belonging, emotional distress, and insomnia among other concerns. The effects can follow these children into adulthood and can trigger alcohol abuse, depression, low self-esteem, violence in their own homes, criminal behavior, and substance abuse.

  1. Domestic Violence is a Serious Crime

Help is available for those women and men that have gone through the pain of domestic violence. It may be difficult, after all that a victim has suffered, to take action and seek help, however, there are several ways the law can help protect you and your family.

Domestic abuse includes the crimes of rape, sexual assault, assault, criminal trespass, communicating threats, stalking, harassing phone calls and child abuse. If you or your child is a victim of any of these violent acts the first step is to call 911 or the local police. The police can help you and your children get to safety and can be the first step in stopping the abuse. It is important that you cooperate with the police in the investigation and it may be a good idea, after you contact the police and are in a safe place, to contact an attorney for advice.

  1. Additional Help is Available Under Civil Law

Once you and your family are safe there are also civil remedies that can provide the victim with some recourse against the perpetrator.

In North Carolina, under Chapter 50B, the Domestic Violence Act, a victim of domestic violence can ask the Court to enter a protective order (restraining order). According to the Act, any person residing in North Carolina and alleging domestic violence against herself or himself, or a minor child who resides with the victim, may seek a protective order. Additionally, a victim may also seek emergency relief if he or she fears a serious and immediate injury to her or himself or minor child.

A protective order can provide several types of relief to victims where the court finds that an act of domestic violence has occurred. A judge can order any of the following types of relief:

  • directing a perpetrator to refrain from committing violent acts;
  • granting possession of a residence and excluding the abuser from the residence;
  • awarding temporary custody of minor children;
  • ordering eviction from the residence;
  • ordering payments for support of minor child or spouse; and
  • providing possession of personal property including a vehicle.

Protective orders are not to exceed one year; however, the court may renew a protective order before the expiration of the current order. In addition to the Domestic Violence Act, there may also be additional protections under other laws. It is a good idea to consult with an attorney so he or she can help ensure you and your family’s ongoing safety and to protect your rights under North Carolina law.

  1. Domestic Violence Can Impact a Divorce or Legal Separation

In addition to filing criminal charges and filing a civil action to obtain a protective order, a victim of domestic violence can also make the decision to file for a divorce or legal separation. The finding that abuse has occurred may have an impact on the divorce or separation proceeding, for example, it may influence the court’s decision on child custody or visitation.

  1. There are Things that May Help Prevent Domestic Violence

As a society we can take some simple steps to help prevent someone we know from becoming a victim of domestic violence. First and foremost, teaching and promoting healthy relationships and behavior can prevent violence from happening before it ever begins.

If you suspect someone you know is being abused it is important to take action and avoid ignoring the warning signs; a call to the police could save a life. Know what to look for. If someone you know seems to be afraid or anxious around their partner, agrees with everything their partner says and does, receives frequent harassing phone calls from their partner, talks about their partner’s temper or jealousy, has frequent injuries or “accidents”, frequently misses work or other engagements, isolates herself or himself, has low self-esteem, personality changes, is depressed, anxious or suicidal or you if you suspect abuse, you should speak up.

  1. There Are Resources For Recovery

There are many resources available to those that have been affected by domestic violence. In addition to local mental health providers, including psychologists and social workers, there are also programs across the state. Information can be found at https://nccadv.org/, the North Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence. You can also call the National Domestic Abuse Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or visit https://www.thehotline.org/.


  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Racial and Ethnic Difference in Homicides of Adult Women and the Role of Intimate Partner Violence – United States, 2003-2014. CDC Web Site. July 21, 2017
  • North Carolina General Statutes, Chapter 50B: Domestic Violence.
  • National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV). National Statistics. NCADV Web Site.
  • American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress. Domestic Violence: An Overview. American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress Web Site. February, 2001
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Intimate Partner Violence: Consequences. CDC Web Site.
  • North Carolina Bar Association. Domestic Violence pamphlet. North Carolina Bar Association Web Site. 2005, Revised 2014
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Preventing Intimate Partner Violence Across the Lifespan: A Technical Package of Programs, Policies, and Practices. CDC Web Site. 2017
  • Domestic Violence & Abuse Signs of Abuse and Abusive – UC Davis Health. Domestic Violence and Abuse. UC Davis Health Web Site.
  • Domestic Violence and the Law, A Practical Guide for Survivors. North Carolina Justice Academy Web Site.