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What is considered domestic violence & how can you get help if someone is hurting you?

Domestic violence takes many shapes and forms.  In certain states like Wisconsin, the term “domestic abuse” is different than the concept of domestic violence.  Understanding the broader term certainly helps us provide advice for individuals in these situations.

The United States Department of Justice provides us a relevant definition of domestic violence:

The term “domestic violence” includes felony or misdemeanor crimes of violence committed by a current or former spouse or intimate partner of the victim, by a person with whom the victim shares a child in common, by a person who is cohabitating with or has cohabitated with the victim as a spouse or intimate partner, by a person similarly situated to a spouse of the victim under the domestic or family violence laws of the jurisdiction receiving grant monies, or by any other person against an adult or youth victim who is protected from that person’s acts under the domestic or family violence laws of the jurisdiction.

Relationships involving violence are a serious, common issues throughout the United States.  And unfortunately, the signs and symptoms of domestic abuse are sometimes difficult to recognize from the outside.  This article will discuss some of those signs, why domestic violence occurs, and a few general types of it.

At Meyer Van Severen, S.C. we regularly defend individuals charged with domestic violence crimes.  Understanding what constitutes DV can certainly help defend yourself against accusations of domestic violence and win your case.

Types of domestic violence

Domestic abuse takes many forms.  Some of the most common forms include physical, sexual, emotional, verbal, financial, and psychological abuse.  It’s certainly important to recognize that frequently DV situations encompass numerous forms, and frequently those forms change with time.

  • Physical.  Certainly physical cases are the most observable.  Physical abuse includes hitting, kicking, punching, slapping, shoving, and other similar physical actions.  Finally, physical abuse can also include destruction of property, such as punching a wall or breaking out a window.
  • Emotional.  Secondly, emotional abuse is usually something friends, family, and co-workers can become aware of.  The term certainly includes conduct like insulting or criticizing your partner.  In more aggressive fashion, emotional abuse can include vague threats to cause harm or other statements that might scare the accuser.
  • Sexual.  Sexual abuse is generally more difficult to observe from the outside.  Generally sexual abuse involves forcing your spouse to have sexual intercourse or contact without his or her consent.  Sexual abuse cases can lead to sexual assault charges, depending upon how serious the actions were.
  • Verbal.  It’s important to remember that mere words can lead to criminal charges.  And unfortunately, a verbal argument can be considered domestic abuse.  Frequently verbal abuse involves threatening conduct.
  • Financial.  Financial abuse generally doesn’t lead to criminal charges.  Secondly, financial abuse includes withholding money from your partner, or doing things that could cause the victim to lose his or her job.  Sometimes financial abuse is called economic abuse.
  • Psychological.  Psychological abuse involves a lot of the things we’ve already discussed.  But there’s certainly a little more to it.  In Wisconsin, psychological abuse is not a crime.  But it includes many things like controlling who your partner spends time with or attacking his or her self-esteem.

Risk factors for domestic violence:

Certain risk factors apply to both perpetrators and victims of DV crime.

Risk factors for perpetrators:

  • Childhood abuse.  Experiencing abuse as a child is one of the biggest risk factors for both perpetrators and victims of domestic violence.  Individuals who experienced child abuse may believe that abusive relationships are normal, and abuse adult partners.
  • Low self-esteem. In situations where the perpetrator’s self-esteem is lacking, he may feel the need to control his partner.  Low self-esteem, especially that caused by lower socioeconomic background, and lack of education sometimes lead to an intense feeling to control the partner.
  • Major life changes.  The risk of abuse increases along with major life changes, like a family member’s illness, pregnancy, or the death of a close friend.  The perpetrator may feel left out or neglected, and look for ways to control.
  • Community/societal factors. Abusive tendencies and beliefs are ingrained in certain cultures and subsets of the population.  This may encourage perpetrators to continue the cycle of abuse.

Risk factors for victims:

  • Childhood abuse.  This is a risk factor for both perpetrators and victims of domestic violence.  Individuals who experienced abuse from their parents are more likely to see the behavior as normal.
  • Lack of social support.  Frequently, DV situations are very visible to the outside.  This certainly applies beyond physical abuse.  Without a strong social support network, there are few others to recognize the signs of domestic violence and encourage reporting.
  • Low self-esteem.  Domestic abuse and low-self esteem go hand in hand.  Victims with low self-esteem may find it more difficult to leave abusive relationship.  Frequently they believe that they cannot do better than the relationship they’re in.
  • Community/society factors.  Abusive tendencies and beliefs are ingrained in certain cultures and subsets of the population.  Sometimes this results in victims failing to report certain instances of abuse.
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Symptoms and signs of domestic violence

Even with emotional or verbal abuse that doesn’t leave a visible mark, there are warning signs and symptoms that can indicate someone is being abused.  Here are a few:

  • Physical marks, bruises, scratches, slap marks can indicate physical abuse.
  • If one partner requires the other’s permission before seeing friends, attending social events, or spending money, there may be emotional or economic abuse.
  • One partner makes fun of the other and constantly puts him or her down, embarrassing her in front of friends and family.  This may indicate emotional abuse.
  • People who are being abused may seem anxious or nervous when they are away from the abuser, or they may seem overly anxious to please their partner. If they have children, the children may seem timid, frightened, or extremely well-behaved when the partner is around.
  • Behavioral changes: If you notice that someone who was once outgoing and cheerful has gradually become quiet and withdrawn, it could be a sign of domestic abuse.

Domestic violence help and resources

If you’re experiencing domestic violence, there are ways to get help.  Here are a few ways our domestic violence defense attorneys suggest getting help:

Firstly, make an escape plan.  Getting away from your partner safely is the first step.  Making an escape plan allows you to leave at a moment’s notice.  Certainly planning a location to move to, a way to get there, and what to do with your children is helpful.  Obviously you will also need to plan your short-term finances and have some ability to survive financially.

Secondly, reach out.  Reaching out to friends, family members, shelters, or any other organizations that can offer you help and support. Having people around to help and protect will be crucial as you formulate and execute your escape plan.  Those individuals may be able to provide you a place to live, financial support, or help with transportation and children.  Escaping a domestic violence situation frequently requires help from others.

Finally, protect yourself after leaving.  The most dangerous time for a victim of domestic violence is immediately upon leaving the relationship.  Many states have domestic abuse statutes in place to protect victims.  Frequently after police become involved in the situation, a 72 hour no-contact requirement is placed on the abuser.  Respecting that no contact order and reporting violations to law enforcement is important to the victim’s survival.

Domestic violence help and resources

Fortunately for victims of domestic violence, there are a ton of various, helpful resources available throughout the country.  One of the best places to begin getting help is the National Domestic Abuse Hotline.

Finally, for more general coverage of domestic abuse resources, the Family and Youth Services Bureau of the Administration for Children and Families provides a substantial amount of information on their website.

Finally, what do you do if you’re accused of committing a domestic violence crime?

If you’re accused of committing a crime of domestic violence, hiring a top criminal defense attorney is certainly the most important first step for you to take.  As you can see, there are plenty resources available to victims of domestic violence, but as an individual accused of perpetrating a DV offense your first step should be to reach out to a qualified, local criminal defense lawyer.  This individual will guide you through the process and help you defend against the charges you’re facing.

Meyer Van Severen, S.C. is a criminal defense law firm based in Milwaukee, WI.  Our criminal defense attorneys regularly represent individuals facing domestic abuse charges.  To speak with one of our defense lawyers, contact Meyer Van Severen at (414) 270-0202.