Domestic Violence Is More Common Than You Realize
Many people don’t realize that they’re victims of domestic violence because they don’t understand the sometimes insidious form that domestic violence takes. While physical abuse is what one initially associates with the term, emotional and financial abuse can also be violent acts. As SmolenPlevy co-founding Principal Alan Plevy explains, “Domestic violence crosses all boundaries—rich, middle class, poor, female and male. Most people want to think that it cannot or is not happening in their marriage but often, it is—they just cannot recognize it.”
Plevy has advised many clients over the course of more than thirty years of practicing law on how to identify domestic violence situations and how to resolve them safely—which may require separation and divorce. Often he has to begin by educating his client about the situation. In many cultures, what may seem to be acceptable behavior to one or both parties in a marriage is a crime in the United States and the victim can seek the assistance of the court. Other times, people can fall into relationship habits, which devolve over time until the parties find themselves in an abusive and unhealthy relationship.
Physical abuse is usually the easiest type to identify. When this happens, protective orders can be issued by the court that require the offending party stay a certain distance away from the victim. Physical violence can also result in criminal charges against the perpetrator. In situations where both parties have acted in a violent manner, Plevy says that sometimes both parties secure protective orders.
Financial abuse comes in different forms and can be harder to identify. Sometimes a husband or wife asserts control by limiting their partner’s access to money, credit cards and financial information. They may require that their spouse report every penny spent or they may limit resources to the point that the other spouse literally has to beg for grocery or gas money.
Sometimes spouses inflict emotional pain in the form of verbal or emotional abuse. While they may not hurt their partner physically, making verbal threats, calling them names, embarrassing them in front of others, or threatening physical harm or mistreatment is still considered domestic violence and can be just as harmful to the victim.
No matter what form violence takes in a marriage, it is often very difficult for the abused party to break away, especially when children are involved. Plevy suggests that:
- In the case of physical violence, get a protective order so that you have an order that provides for your physical safety and which you can use if you need to summon the assistance of law enforcement.
- Seek professional mental health counseling. Pick a therapist who has dealt with victims of violence. Therapists can help devise what Plevy calls a “ safety plan,” that may include having a secret cell phone programmed to call 911, money set aside for when the victim eventually leaves the home, and ways in which to protect children who may be involved. If money is an issue, there are charitable, government and religious organizations that can provide free mental health counseling.
- Speak to an experienced attorney who can help you understand the legal ramifications of your situation. “ Sound legal advice is critical during this time,” he says.
Plevy acknowledges that it’ s very difficult to leave a violent situation, as there is usually a great deal of fear involved. “ By knowing your legal rights and getting proper counseling,” he says, “ you will be in a much better position to make a safe exit from a difficult situation.”
Read more from SmolenPlevy’s Winter 2014 Report from Counsel here.