Victims of domestic violence often feel isolated and aren’t sure where to turn for help. At the Hotline, we’re here to help you find resources and discuss your options if you are in an abusive relationship. For some victims, those options include taking legal action against their abusive partners. Often these actions include filing police reports or obtaining a protection order.
Keep in mind that proceeding with a police report or a protection order is a personal choice, and you should only take these steps if you feel safe doing so. But first it’s important to understand what these documents are and what they can do for you.
A police report is one way to document the abuse and can be the first step toward filing criminal charges. You will be asked detailed questions about the incident and about any witnesses and the perpetrator.
How do I file a police report?
It’s best to file as soon as possible after an incident. Typically, you will need to go to the police station to file a report, or an officer can be dispatched to you. You may be able to file the report by phone by calling your area’s non-emergency number. In some cities you can file the report online. If it’s been a while since the incident happened, you’ll need to bring as much evidence as possible (ex. Journal/log, photos, witnesses, etc.). Provide as much information as you can as clearly as possible, and be sure to express if you feel threatened or have any fears about your partner. Anyone can file a police report, regardless of age (but if you are under 18, the police might contact your parent/guardian).
Why would I file a police report?
It is a way to document abuse and create an official record for the abusive partner, which may be used as evidence in a criminal or civil case.
What happens when I file a police report?
Once you file the report, you become a witness in the state’s case against the perpetrator. The case will be assigned to a detective in your precinct, who will begin an investigation. The detective will likely contact you to ask additional questions and discuss the case. Once the detective has completed the investigation, he/she will submit a report to the County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.
While you do not control whether the case is prosecuted, most prosecutors will not go forward without your consent. Prosecutors usually consider many factors in determining whether to prosecute without a victim’s consent, including whether there is enough evidence to support a conviction without the victim’s testimony. If you have any questions or concerns throughout the process, you have the right to contact the case detective and/or the prosecuting attorney’s office.
A protective order is an official legal order issued by a state court that requires the abusive person to stop the violence and abuse and maintain a certain distance from the victim. Depending on where you live, it can also be called a restraining order, protection order, an injunction, or an order of protection.
How do I get a protective order?
Different states have different processes, but as a general rule, appropriate forms have to be filled out and submitted to the county court house. A court date will be scheduled and both parties will be notified. If you are under 18, you will likely need parental consent.
Why would I get a protective order?
A protective order is legal protection against the abusive partner and can be enforced by police. Special provisions can be requested such as custody of children, continued financial support, getting the abuser to leave the residence, etc. Some states also require the abusive partner to surrender their firearms.
It’s important to note that while a protective order may help keep an abusive partner away from you, it does not work in every case. Some abusive partners continue to contact and abuse their partners despite the presence of a protective order. Some may become even more dangerous after an order is filed because it threatens their power and control over the relationship. While you cannot predict someone’s behavior, you know your situation best, and it’s a good idea to consider how your partner might react based on what you know about them before obtaining a protection order.
What happens when I get a protective order?
When the abuser does something that the court has ordered them not to do, or doesn’t do something the court has ordered them to do, they may have violated the order. You can ask the police or the court (or both, depending on the violation) to enforce the order. If you are not able to contact the police when the violation occurs, they should take a report if you call them soon afterwards. In some cases, violating a protective order might result in a misdemeanor or felony criminal conviction and punishment. These types of violations can also later be addressed by a civil court, and it is often a good idea to bring them to the court’s attention.
Things to consider before obtaining a protective order:
- PROS: You will have legal documentation of protection; the abuse may stop; provisions can be made for children, finances, etc.; can still be enforced if you move or leave your home state
- CONS: You will have to see the abusive partner in court; abuse may not decrease/abusive partner may not obey the order; some orders are not always enforced
Please note that police reports and protective orders are just parts of an overall safety plan and do not guarantee your safety from an abusive partner. Remember, you are the most knowledgeable person about your own situation, and you must use your own judgment about what is best for you. If you are considering taking legal steps against an abusive partner, we strongly recommend that you get in touch with a legal advocate, and we can help you find one in your area. Please call us at 1-800-799-7233 or chat online from 7am-2am CST.
Resources and additional information:
- VINE (Victim Information & Notification Everyday): This service provides information about criminal cases and the custody status of offenders 24 hours a day
- Full Faith and Credit: Refers to Section 2265 of VAWA and requires that a valid protection order issued in one state be treated another state as if it were one of its own. It enables the victim to travel safely without having to establish jurisdiction or secure a new protective order.
- WomensLaw provides legal information and support to victims of domestic violence and assault.
- Legal Services Corporation provides legal assistance to low-income individuals and families throughout the nation.