What is a Domestic Violence Protection Order?

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In our “What is Domestic Violence?” post, we outlined the behavioral and legal definitions of domestic violence. Unfortunately, most of the people that we work with are very familiar with this kind of violence, and are coming to us because they are leaving or are wanting to leave an abusive relationship. Because separation is generally the most dangerous time, we are often working together to develop ways to ensure safety. From a legal standpoint, one way we can do this is by petitioning a court for a domestic violence protection order (DVPO). In this post, we’ll outline what a DVPO is and who it is geared towards. In future posts, we’ll chat more about how to get a DVPO and what happens if a DVPO is violated.

The Washington State legislature recognized domestic violence as a “crime against society,” and, enacted the Domestic Violence Prevention Act (DVPA) with the stated purpose of providing victims of domestic violence with the “maximum protection from abuse.” (RCW 10.99.010). The DVPA essentially streamlined the process, so as to provide survivors with “easy, quick, and effective access” to DVPOs. For example:

  • No filing fees;
  • Mandatory “pro se friendly” forms;
  • Immediate ex parte temporary orders;
  • Free service of process by law enforcement;
  • No hard deadlines for submitting responses and replies;
  • No confirmation process;
  • Petitions can be heard any day of the week.

What is a DVPO?
Simply put, a DVPO is a civil protection order that protects one person (the petitioner / victim) and restrains another (the respondent / abuser). But what does that mean? When a court issues a DVPO, it may:

  • Prohibit the abuser from physically harming, injuring, assaulting, molesting, harassing, threatening, or stalking the victim;
  • Prohibit the abuser from keeping the victim under surveillance or monitoring the victim’s activities;
  • Prohibit the abuser from contacting the victim, including using third parties to contact the victim on the abuser’s behalf;
  • Prohibit the abuser from going to the victim’s home, school, workplace, or other specified locations;
  • Prohibit the abuser from coming within a certain specified distance of the victim;
  • Grant the petitioner temporary care of shared children;
  • Grant the petitioner custody of shared pets;
  • Order the abuser to vacate the shared home;
  • Order the abuser to participate in treatment and / or counseling;
  • Order the abuser not to posses any firearms, dangerous weapons, and / or concealed pistol license. 

Who is a DVPO Geared Towards?
First, a DVPO is only an option for people who are in a specific kind of relationship* and who meet the legal definition of domestic violence (read more about both of this in our “What is Domestic Violence?” post). Still, not everyone in this situation needs or even wants a DVPO. Things to consider:

  • Will a DVPO make you feel safer?
  • Will a DVPO actually make you / your children safer? Sometimes victims suspect that getting a DVPO will actually make things worse.
  • What might happen if you don’t file for a DVPO?
  • Are there personal issues that your abuser may bring up in court, which you’d rather keep private?
  • Is your abuser likely to obey the DVPO?
  • Will you use a DVPO? Will you call the police if the order is violated? 

Whether or not to petition for a DVPO is a deeply personal decision, that only you can make. Still, we always encourage individuals to speak with a trusted friend, family member, or professional. 

 

*If you don't have the requisite relationship for a DVPO, but still feel that you need protection, there are other types orders available, we just aren’t discussing them in this post. 

 

Common Domestic Violence Myths

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We’ve been talking a lot about different forms of domestic violence, and we’ve gotten some questions about things that we’ll politely call “domestic violence myths” – in other words: complete and total nonsense.

There are many myths surrounding domestic violence, ranging from what causes perpetrators to abuse their partners, to the “types” of women who are the victims of abuse, to why victims seek protection orders. Misinformation is never a good thing, but these myths can actually be very detrimental. They can cause a victim to re-think her decision to come forward and share her experiences, and can cause those with whom she speaks to doubt her accounts. 

Some common domestic violence myths:

  • “He did it because he was drunk / high.” One of the most common domestic violence myths is that men abuse their partners because they are under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and wouldn’t have if they were in the “right” state of mind (sober). This is absolutely false: domestic violence stems from a desire to coercively control another person. Blaming drugs or alcohol shifts the responsibility off the abuser and onto the substance, which is just wrong. 
  • “She can’t be a victim, she was drunk / high.” It’s interesting that we excuse an abuser’s behavior for being drunk or high, but, if the victim is drunk or high, we blame her. Just as being under the influence doesn’t excuse an abuser’s behavior, it also doesn’t make the vicim any less of a victim. 
  • “She’s not the victim-type.” Women of all races, national origins, socioeconomic statuses, and religions can be victims of domestic violence. Studies do not support the myth that domestic violence only occurs against women who are low-income or minorities. 
  • “He is such a nice guy, I just can’t imagine him doing something like that.” Abusers are often very charming, charismatic people. To the outsiders looking in, it might be hard to believe that the “nice guy” is capable of abuse. 
  • “If it were really that bad, she would just leave.” Are you noticing a theme, yet? Lots of victim blaming in DV myths. There are a whole host of reasons why a victim of domestic violence wouldn’t leave an abusive situation:
    • Safety: You read that one right. Studies show separation is the most dangerous time in an abusive relationship. In fact, a victim is most likely to be killed by her abuser when she tries to leave. This is because the abuser recognizes that he is at risk of losing (at least some of) his power over the victim, and goes to extreme, often violent, measures to regain control.
    • Money: Victims may also remain in the relationship for financial reasons. Financial abuse is a very prevalent form of domestic violence, and could mean that the victim doesn’t have access to credit cards, cash, or a bank account. Without access to money, it becomes extremely difficult on a pragmatic level to leave the relationship, especially if there are children involved. 
    • Love: One of the most common things we hear from our clients is, “I love him, I just want him to stop hurting me.” Domestic violence usually occurs in a cycle, with the periods of violence being followed by a “honeymoon” phase. During the “honeymoon,” the abuser will often shower the victim with affection, gifts, and promises that the abuse will never happen again. A victim may believe her abuser when he says that this is “the last time.” 
  • “If he really did these things, then why didn’t she call the police or go to the hospital?” It is incredibly common for victims not to tell anyone, including law enforcement or medical personnel, about the abuse, and there are a lot of reasons why this is true.
    • Shame: It is not the victim’s fault that she is being abused, but she may not realize this, and may still feel a sense of shame or embarrassment.
    • Support: The victim may feel like no one would believe her or support her, and, given the stigma surrounding domestic violence, this is a pretty understandable concern.
    • Concern for the Abuser: She might be worried that the abuser will go to jail or get into trouble if she reports the abuse. This is someone that she still cares for, and may even share children with. 
  • “She’s just doing this to get custody of the kids.” We hear this one constantly. Despite countless studies that tell us that women don’t fabricate claims of domestic violence to gain the upper hand in a custody dispute, abusers and their attorneys still use this argument.

These are just a few of the many domestic violence myths that are perpetuated. Our hope is that if you hear one, you will recognize it for what it is.

What is Financial Abuse?

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When we think about domestic violence, the first thing that comes to mind is often physical abuse. Cuts and bruises and broken bones may be the most obvious kind of domestic violence, but the most common kind of domestic violence is financial abuse, which is present in over 95% of domestic violence cases. 

Domestic violence centers around behavior that an abuser uses to gain or maintain power and control. Not surprisingly, using financials is often the “best” way for him to do this. He prevents his partner from utilizing or accessing financial resources, which will force her to become financially dependent on him. Financial abuse is used in conjunction with other kinds of abuse, but, because financial abuse is not as obvious as other forms of domestic violence, it can be difficult to spot.

  • The abuser may interfere with the victim’s ability to get or keep a job. One of the easiest ways for an abuser to control his partner is to ensure that she is not earning her own money. This means that he may make it very difficult or even impossible for her to work.
    • He may sabotage job interviews – forcing her to be late or miss an employment opportunity all together. 
    • He may make it very difficult for her to get to work – hiding her keys, restricting her access to transportation, or altogether preventing her from leaving the home.
    • He may show up at her work place and cause a scene. She may be reprimanded or even fired for this, or, she may quit on her own, due to the shame and embarrassment she feels.
    • He may insist that she quit her job or reduce the hours that she works. He may point to an “issue” at home that requires she do this – the children aren’t being properly cared for or the home isn’t being maintained to his liking.
    • The abuser may prevent the victim from accessing funds. The abuser may limit his partner’s ability to use credit cards and cash, or limit her access to funds through ATMs or the bank. He may also demand that his partner turn over any funds that she earned herself – or even prevent her from seeing her hard earned money at all, by requiring that she deposit checks into his account or sign them over to him.
  • The abuser may prevent the victim from holding any assets. The abuser may demand that all joint assets – like a deed, mortgage, or title – be in his name only. Even if the victim does have assets that are hers alone, he may force her to give or sign them over to him. 
  • The abuser may use debt as a form of control. The abuser may force the victim to use her credit in a way that is detrimental to her. It is not uncommon for an abuser to force a victim to open credit cards or apply for loans for things that are for both of them, or even solely for him. He may also open accounts in the victim’s name, without her knowledge or consent. This can be especially damaging, as the abuser can destroy the victim’s credit, making her further dependent on him. 

Even when a victim is ready to leave her abusive partner, she is often unable to do so because of financial limitations. Especially when children are involved, staying in an abusive situation may seem like the better of two awful options. Because she has had limited access to money or assets, the victim does not have the financial resources to provide for herself and her children on her own. At least in her current situation, she knows that her children will have beds to sleep in and food to eat.

If you are experiencing domestic violence, we urge you to seek help. You are not alone. There are many resources available to help those in need, including safety planning, transitional housing, and legal assistance. 

Note: when referring to perpetrators, we use he/him pronouns, and when referring to victims and survivors, we use she/her pronouns. This is solely for consistency and ease of reading. We recognize that both men and women can perpetrate or be victims of domestic violence, but the sad truth is that the majority of perpetrators are male, and the majority of victims are female. 

What is Gaslighting?

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As we discussed in our last post, domestic violence can take many forms, including emotional and psychological abuse. One tactic abusers utilize that is both very prevalent, and often very difficult to identify as it is occurring, is something called “gaslighting.” Almost every client we meet with will say something to the effect of, “He acted like I was crazy, but I swear this is what happened…” This is gaslighting –  a manipulation tactic where the abuser causes the victim to doubt her own perception of reality, recollection and even sanity. The victim may start to believe that she has a terrible memory, is stupid, or is even going crazy. When an abuser causes a victim to internalize these beliefs about herself, the victim can become easier for the abuser to control and manipulate. 

Gaslighting can appear in several different forms. For example:

  • The abuser may insist that the victim is misremembering or inventing facts, in an attempt to make her doubt her own memory. He might insist that she is remembering something inaccurately, or that she completely fabricated a memory. Often, he will also remind the victim of times in the past when she has “misremembered” things (and often these were also a result of gaslighting) in order to prove that she has a terrible memory and should defer to the abuser’s version of events.
  • The abuser may act as if he simply does not understand what the victim is talking about when she attempts to discuss certain topics with him. Often times, an abuser will use phrases like, “you’re trying to confuse me!” to distract the victim from the fact that she has raised valid and logical concerns. This can cause the victim to doubt her own motives for broaching certain topics, which, in turn, can prevent her from even bringing up those topics in the first place.
  • The abuser may also cause the victim to question her general outlook on life. For example, he may say things like, “you are always so negative!” or “you always fly off the handle!” This can cause a victim who responds to abuse in an objectively reasonable manner to believe that she is just being overly negative, reactive, or sensitive. This can be a powerful tool for abusers. The victim ends up blaming her anger, sadness, and anxiety on her perceived inability to respond properly to situations, as opposed to attributing her negative feelings to the abuse she is experiencing. 
  • The abuser may also minimize the victim’s feelings by saying things like “why are you letting something like that bother you?” A victim may begin to think that her reactions to abuse are inappropriate because she isn’t sufficiently thick-skinned and resilient – she’s simply overreacting. Again, the victim blames herself for reacting in ways that are, in actuality, appropriate and reasonable. 

These behaviors are often subtle and tricky for victims to spot, especially as they are occurring. Often times, the victim won’t realize what was happening until she is safely removed from the situation, and recalls what happened. Some general signs that may indicate that a victim is currently being gaslit are:

  • She is no longer sure in her decisions or convictions;
  • She may try to tell herself that she is just too sensitive;
  • She may find that her self-confidence in other aspects of her life, like her job, has decreased;
  • She may stop talking with her partner about anything that could be construed as negative, and / or stop raising concerns about the relationship to her partner;
  • She may feel like she doesn’t have any positive qualities;
  • She may isolate herself from friends and family in order to avoid questions about her relationship; or
  • She may feel a general sense of anxiety and / or sadness, but is have a hard time putting her finger on what is causing it.

As with most things in life, every situation is different. If you or someone you know are experiencing gaslighting, we urge you to seek help. You are not alone. There are many resources available to help those in need, including safety planning, transitional housing, and legal assistance.  

Note: when referring to perpetrators, we use he/him pronouns, and when referring to victims and survivors, we use she/her pronouns. This is solely for consistency and ease of reading. We recognize that both men and women can perpetrate or be victims of domestic violence, but the sad truth is that the majority of perpetrators are male, and the majority of victims are female. 

What is Domestic Violence?

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We recently observed Domestic Violence Awareness month, which prompted a lot of questions about what is and is not domestic violence. It turns out that the answer isn’t so simple. We explain domestic violence a bit elsewhere on our website, but wanted to go into a little more detail here. 

To start, there are multiple definitions of domestic violence: the behavioral definition and the legal definition. 

Behavioral domestic violence is a broader definition. It is a pattern of abusive behavior that is used by one partner to gain or maintain power and control over the other partner. Domestic violence can take many forms*: 

  • Physical abuse: This looks like hitting, punching, slapping, choking, throwing objects at, and otherwise physically harming. Because there are often visible signs, physical abuse is generally the most easily recognizable form of domestic violence. 
  • Sexual abuse: This looks like forced penetration (oral, anal, or vaginal) and unwanted sexual touching. “Force” does not mean that there is a threat of violence; rather, it means that the encounter was not consensual. A victim does not have to physically fight back, scream out, or even say no for an encounter to be non-consensual. 
  • Financial abuse: This looks like controlling access to employment, transportation, bank accounts, and credit cards, such that a victim is dependent on her abuser for survival.
  • Emotional abuse: This type of abuse encompasses many different behaviors, including isolating, guilt-tripping, threatening to reveal private, personal, or humiliating information (immigration status, sexual history, private photographs or videos), manipulating situations such that the victim begins to question his/her perception of reality (gaslighting), and berating (name-calling, making derogatory comments, being overly critical, talking down, etc.)

The legal definition of domestic violence, however, is more limited, and is what courts are bound by when victims are petitioning for relief. In order to obtain a Domestic Violence Protection Order in Washington state, the parties need to be in a specific kind of relationship. Qualifying relationships include: spouses and former spouses, domestic partners, parents of a child in common, adults in a dating relationship, and parents and children. The definition of domestic violence that courts use is: (1) physical harm, bodily injury, assault, or the infliction of fear of imminent harm, bodily injury, or assault; (2) sexual assault; or (3) stalking. If the requisite relationship is present, and the legal definition is met, the court shall grant the petitioner a protection order. While courts will consider behavioral domestic violence as well (especially to get a fuller picture of the abuse), in order to grant a Domestic Violence Protection Order, the legal definition of domestic violence must be met. 

If you are experiencing domestic violence, we urge you to seek help. You are not alone. There are many resources available to help those in need, including safety planning, transitional housing, and legal assistance.  

*This list is not exhaustive. If you are experiencing the above or any other concerning behavior, we would recommend you reach out to someone you trust or a community advocate. 

Note: when referring to perpetrators, we use he/him pronouns, and when referring to victims and survivors, we use she/her pronouns. This is solely for consistency and ease of reading. We recognize that both men and women can perpetrate or be victims of domestic violence, but the sad truth is that the majority of perpetrators are male, and the majority of victims are female.