Each October, our country observes Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
It shouldn’t take an event or a month for us to be aware of the problem; it is always important to discuss domestic violence and to highlight the resources available to those who are victims of domestic violence.
So I spoke with Prof. Renata Turner about domestic violence, perceptions of the problem and what solutions are available to its victims. Prof. Turner’s background in domestic violence began at the Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers Foundation, where she served as the director of its Domestic Violence Project from 2001 until 2007. Currently, she teaches Domestic Violence and the Law at Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School and Georgia State University College of Law.
KYR: How has the perception of domestic violence changed over the years?
Turner: Many of the perceptions of domestic violence are actually misperceptions. While women continue to be 85 to 95 percent of domestic victims, there is a perception today that women abuse men at equal rates. This misperception is fueled by media images of violent women, misinterpretations of statistics and a misunderstanding of what domestic violence is. The reality is that the rate of domestic violence against women has remained constant for the past several years. Georgia has ranked in the top 20 states for the number of women killed through domestic violence since 2000; we are currently 10th in the nation.
Another perception is one that frankly hasn’t changed. It’s the misperception that a woman can simply leave an abusive relationship. The truth is that simply leaving is not an option for many victims caught in the cycle of violence for a myriad reasons. It is also a dangerous assumption that violence will end once a victim leaves. Of the women killed as a result of abuse, 75 percent are killed after or while leaving the relationship.
KYR: How is “domestic violence” defined in Georgia? What does the term include or not include?
Turner: Family Violence is defined in Georgia as a felony battery, simple battery, simple assault, assault, stalking, criminal damage to property, unlawful restraint or criminal trespass committed between past or present spouses, persons who are parents of the same child, parents and children, stepparents and stepchildren, foster parents and foster children, or other persons living or formerly living in the same household.
One thing that is missing from the definition is dating relationships. Couples without children who are not living together are not included in the protected parties. This category could also include teen couples, a growing demographic of domestic violence victims.
The most important thing missing from the definition, whether called family or domestic violence, are factors of power and control. Power and control is the domination of another through the use or threat of violence. True domestic violence victims are controlled at all times through fear of their abuser. As defined in the Georgia statute, family violence must include some physical act; however, the tools of power and control – psychological, emotional and financial abuse – can be just as, if not more, damaging than a hit or a push. The omission of the power and control dynamics is one reason there is the misperception that women are just as abusive or violent as men. It is also the reason that some domestic violence victims may not be able to get the protection they need.
There are different types of violence that couples/family members engage in. One is coercive control, which is what I call “true” domestic violence. It includes all forms of violence – physical, psychological, emotional, financial and sexual. These forms of violence, which may or may not include physical violence, are employed by the abuser to exercise complete power and control of his or her victim. Women are more than 85 percent of the victims in this type of violence.
A second type of violence is violent resistance or self-defense. Here, a victim uses violence to defend herself against the violence inflicted upon her. Often the police and prosecutors fail to make a distinction when a victim strikes back, adhering strictly to the statutory definition of family violence. Statistics that capture violent resistance show more women as perpetuators of this form of violence, which leads to the fallacious conclusion that women abuse men equally.
Two other types of violence fuel the misperception that women are more abusive: Situational couple violence and separation violence. Neither of these types of violence include the dynamics of power and control. Violence is limited to situational events, such as discovering that a partner has been unfaithful or reacting when a partner leaves. There is no reoccurring violence in the relationship or after the couple completely separates. Statistically, women perpetrate this type of violence at roughly the same rate as men. Regardless of gender, people who engage in this type of violence are NOT abusive on an ongoing basis.
KYR: What rights does a victim of domestic violence have?
Turner: Like all citizens, a victim has the right to live free of violence. Victims have the right to get legal protection from their abuser and, if they decide to divorce, they have a right to have past abuse considered for the distribution of property, custody and visitation decisions. Immigrant victims who are not yet citizens have certain rights under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). For instance, a victim can self-petition for legal status without having to wait on an abusive citizen spouse to petition for them.
KYR: What legal options are available to domestic violence victims?
Turner: The immediate legal remedy is to obtain a TPO or temporary protective order. A victim can file for an emergency TPO in the county in which the abuser lives. At an ex parte hearing, she tells the judge why she is in fear of her safety and an emergency order can be issued. The order prohibits the abuser from any contact with the victim and may even order him to leave the home. Within 30 days, a full hearing is held in which both the victim and her alleged abuser present evidence to the court. If the judge finds a preponderance of the evidence shows that abuse has occurred, a permanent or one-year order is issued prohibiting any contact with the victim. If needed, the victim can request child support, child custody, visitation arrangements or other relief at this hearing.
Despite the legal options, the most important thing to consider is safety. A protective order is only a piece of paper; it cannot protect you from someone who does not respect the law. Victims should contact a domestic violence advocate to talk through safety planning strategies as part of their overall plan to leave a violent relationship.
KYR: Where can victims of domestic violence go for assistance and for more information?
Turner: Women should contact their county solicitor or district attorney’s office. Most offices have a special division to assist domestic violence victims. They can also call a toll-free, 24-hour hotline – 1-800-33-HAVEN (4-2836) voice/TTY in Georgia or 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) – voice or 1-800-787-3224 – TTY elsewhere in the U.S.
The Georgia Commission on Family Violence http://www.gcfv.org/
The Partnership Against Domestic Violence http://padv.org/
Tapestri (resource for immigrant women) http://www.tapestri.org/
The National Domestic Violence Hotline http://www.thehotline.org/
Men Stopping Violence http://www.menstoppingviolence.org/
Know Your Rights is a blog written by Gregory J. Gelpi, an Augusta attorney and owner of The Gelpi Law Firm, P.C. For more information about Greg, go to www.gelpilawfirm.com or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Know Your Rights is for informational purposes only. It is not legal advice. To obtain legal advice, speak with an attorney. The law varies from state to state and outcomes of individual legal matters can vary depending on the particular facts and circumstances. This blog does not create an attorney-client relationship between either the author of this blog or any attorney included in this blog and any reader of this blog.