Domestic abuse, whether from a spouse, intimate partner, family friend or relative, is painful and scarring. Often, victims feel ashamed and even partially responsible for the abuse, and so it goes on, sometimes unreported for years.
In fact, statistics show that in the United States one in three women, and one in four men, experience some form of domestic physical violence. In West Virginia, a third of all homicides are related to domestic violence, and two thirds of women who were killed in the state were murdered by a family or household member.
The problem is, domestic violence is not just physical, but can also be psychological, emotional or sexual, and often becomes a pattern of behavior over time that establishes dominance of the abuser over their victims. Over time, victims of domestic abuse feel increasingly powerless and are less and less likely to try to get out or report the abuse.
Getting help in an abusive relationship
Under the West Virginia Code, domestic violence is defined when a family or household member:
- commits physical harm, with or without a weapon, or attempts such action
- threatens physical harm through stalking, threatening acts or psychological abuse
- commits sexually assault or abuse
- kidnaps or holds a victim against their will
Victims of domestic violence can get a protective order under West Virginia law against a wide range of abusers, from household members to more distant relatives, in-laws or relatives by marriage, or current or former intimate partners and their relatives.
The kinds of protective orders that a victim can seek will depend on the individual circumstances, and are decided by a judge or magistrate. These include:
- Emergency protective order, which is provided by the court on evidence of immediate danger of abuse, and will protect victims from the time of filing for a final protective order until a full court hearing, usually lasting a minimum of 10 days.
- Temporary emergency protective order, issued in situations where there is already a temporary order for divorce or separation
- Final protective order, issued after a full hearing in which the abuser may respond to the victim’s petition, and can last 90 days to one year.
In situations involving stalking, sexual violence or physical threats, a victim can file for a personal safety order.
Because every case is different, it is best to seek compassionate and experienced legal advice on how to get legal protection and support to help victims leave an abusive relationship. Getting out is the first step toward healing.