You may have read powerful open letters on domestic violence online or in magazines. These help increase awareness about domestic violence and encourage more victims to seek help. However, domestic violence letters are used every day in a much more private context: to provide information in criminal court proceedings. A domestic violence letter to a judge is also known as a victim impact statement.
What is a Domestic Violence Letter?
A domestic violence letter or victim impact statement is not a requirement for domestic violence court cases, but every victim has the right to provide one, and it can help to show the sentencing judge how the domestic violence has affected you and your loved ones. You may read the letter out loud in court, if you wish.
The letter should be written in simple language in order to help the people in the courtroom understand what you have gone through, but it should also be written using descriptive words and phrases to help others identify with your experience.
You should address the judge when you speak, or if you wish to address your attacker directly, you can seek permission from the judge to do so.
Domestic Violence Letter Format
While there's no set format for a letter on domestic violence, it may be easier to write if you follow a particular layout. Begin your letter with an introduction, giving your name, occupation or education status and brief details of your past/present relationship with the defendant. For example, you may say that you have been married to the defendant since 2010, have been separated since 2016 and have two children together. However, do not provide personal identifying information such as your physical address, mailing address, email address or phone number, to protect yourself from your attacker.
The next section should provide details of specific instances of domestic violence, including the type of abuse (for example, kicking, punching, derogatory names, destruction of personal property and withholding finances). This section should also reveal the effect of the defendant's behavior on you, for example, it made you fear for your life and has caused you hurt and pain.
If you have children, you should also explain how the defendant's behavior has affected them. For example, perhaps your children don't want to go to sleep at night, have nightmares or struggle to concentrate at school.
You may also state what you are seeking from the court, for example, restitution and/or a no-contact order.
Read More: Is Domestic Violence a Felony?
Sample Domestic Violence Letter
You can find many examples of a sample complaint letter for domestic violence online, such as this letter from Victim Support Services:
"Every morning when I wake up, I have to remind myself that my attacker won’t be able to hurt me today. If I don’t tell myself that I simply can’t get out of bed. Since I was assaulted I have lost the full function of my right leg. I still have to go to the doctor for physical therapy and they fear that I still won’t be able to walk the same. I used to love to run, until my attacker took that away from me. It hurts emotionally and physically to even make it to work in the morning. When I drive past the place that this all happened I try not to shake in fear. I can’t sleep most nights without nightmares of my attacker. I so desperately want my life back. The life I had before he took my life away."
A letter on domestic violence typically includes some personal information (name, occupation and employment status), a detailed history of the domestic violence, how the domestic violence has affected you and your children (if applicable) and what order you are seeking from the court.
- You have the right to speak at the sentencing hearing but it is not a requirement.
- You can find sample domestic violence letters provided in the link below.
- The defense attorney may attempt to contact you; you do not have to speak to him.
Claire is a qualified lawyer and specialized in family law before becoming a full-time writer. She has written for many digital publications, including The Washington Post, Forbes, Vice and HealthCentral.