October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Domestic violence is an insidious problem that has proven to be incredibly difficult to solve. Domestic violence does not discriminate. There are victims of domestic violence across every age group, race, and gender. It is estimated that 25% of women in the United States has experienced domestic violence in her lifetime .
Men are also victims but are less likely to report the violence. It has been estimated that approximately 835,000 men are physically assaulted by an intimate partner each year . The statistics for teenagers that fall victim to domestic violence are also staggering. The Centers for Disease Control has estimated that each year nearly 1.5 million high school students experience domestic violence from a dating partner .
Often times when we think about domestic violence we only think about physical abuse. But domestic violence is any pattern of behavior in an intimate relationship that is used by one person to gain or maintain power over the other person. Domestic violence also includes sexual, emotional, verbal, and psychological abuse. In fact, Governor Cuomo recently signed into law a bill that expands the legal definition of domestic violence to include grand larceny and coercion and certain forms of economic abuse (such as identity theft).
Sometimes a victim is unable to pursue criminal charges against her abuser in criminal court. When this happens, the victim should know that the Family Court offers a remedy pursuant to Article 8 of the Family Court Act with the filing of a “family offense” petition.
A Family offense is certain conduct that is defined under the penal law, and includes disorderly conduct, harassment, sexual misconduct, forcible touching, sexual abuse, stalking, criminal mischief, menacing, reckless endangerment, strangulation, criminal obstruction of breathing or blood circulation, and assault. The conduct must occur between spouses or former spouses, a parent and child, members of the same family or household, including people related by blood or marriage or who have a child in common, or people who are (or have been) in an intimate relationship (even if that relationship was not sexual in nature).
In order to seek an order of protection, the victim needs to file a petition with the family court clerk and allege that a family offense has occurred. While this can be done without an attorney, a domestic violence victim should seek assistance from an attorney (or minimally, a domestic violence advocate) so that she has help in navigating through the court system.
It is important for domestic violence victims to understand that in New York State it is illegal for employers to penalize the victim who needs to take time off of work to attend Court proceedings or legal matters related to the domestic violence she experienced. Employers are also prohibited from discriminating against domestic violence victims .
If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic violence there are a variety of organizations that can help, including the New York State Domestic and Sexual Violence Hotline (1-800-942-6906), Equinox, Inc. (518-432-7865), Unity House (518-272-2370) or The Legal Project, Inc. (518-435-1770).
September 2019 Margaret Tabak