What is a Domestic Violence Law?

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Both federal and state laws protect persons in a relationship from being physically, sexually and emotionally victimized by their partner. While general criminal law provisions protect victims of domestic violence, federal laws such as the Violence Against Women Act imposes additional penalties for persons who use a weapon while committing domestic violence or who travel between states to perpetrate their acts.


The criminal and civil penalties against physical assault protect against domestic violence, which commonly takes the form of physical assault. Assault includes hitting, punching, slapping, kicking, hair-pulling, pushing and assault with weapons or instruments. Physical assault within a relationship is classified as domestic violence, whether it a daily occurrence or happens only once, and regardless of the how much physical injury the act causes.

Sexual Abuse

Rape and sexual assault within the context of a marriage or dating is considered domestic violence. The law protects persons within a relationship from having sexual acts performed on them against their will. Sexual abuse can occur through physical force, chemically sedating the victim, threat of violence against the victim or her or her child, or other forms of verbal duress.

Stalking and Harassment

Domestic violence includes acts of physical stalking, cyber stalking and phone harassment. All states have laws in place that prohibit these acts. To further protect domestic violence victims, local courts can issue domestic violence injunctions that bar perpetrators from making contact or coming within a set distance of their former partners and their residences, vehicles or places of employment.

Child Abuse

Child abuse is also classified as domestic violence. It may include physical assault, sexual abuse, emotional abuse or neglect. State laws determine the definition of child abuse. Children who are subjected to abuse or repeatedly witness their parents engaging in acts of domestic violence may be removed from the home for their protection. Parents who fail to protect their children from domestic violence may also be held responsible for the acts.

Extreme Cruelty

Many states allow persons to cite extreme cruelty as grounds for divorce. This gives victims of domestic violence a chance to terminate the marriage and make a legal record of the acts committed against theme. Unlike other laws barring domestic violence, extreme cruelty provisions formally recognize verbal and emotional abuse as domestic violence. Verbal intimidation, attacks on a person's character and humiliation are all generally classified as domestic violence and extreme cruelty.

About the Author

Anna Green has been published in the "Journal of Counselor Education and Supervision" and has been featured regularly in "Counseling News and Notes," Keys Weekly newspapers, "Travel Host Magazine" and "Travel South." After earning degrees in political science and English, she attended law school, then earned her master's of science in mental health counseling. She is the founder of a nonprofit mental health group and personal coaching service.

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  • Jupiter Images © 2009