In recent years, state legislatures and courts have been paying increasing attention to domestic violence. Many states have elaborate laws designed to protect individuals from domestic violence by their spouses, other family members, and people with whom the victim may have had a social relationship.
A common remedy is for a court to issue an order of protection (also known as a protective order) that orders the alleged abuser to stop abusing or harassing someone else. The charges will often direct the abuser to stay away from the spouse, the spouse’s home, or workplace. If the person continues to abuse his or her spouse (or another person protected by the order), the abuser can be charged with a criminal violation of the order in addition to being charged with other offenses, such as assault and battery. Penalties include fines and incarceration.
The domestic violence statutes in most states apply not only to physical attacks but also to other types of conduct. Some examples of behavior that could be considered domestic violence: creating a disturbance at a spouse’s place of work, placing harassing telephone calls, stalking, using surveillance, and making threats against a spouse or family member (even though the threat may not have been carried out).
Studies have shown that issuing a protective order or arresting a person who commits domestic violence does reduce future incidents of domestic violence. When domestic violence perpetrators see that the police and court system will treat domestic violence seriously, many persons who commit domestic violence may be deterred from future violence.
But orders of protection are not guarantees of security or safety. No court order will stop their violence, and a court order might even add to the range for some individuals with intense anger or rage. Newspapers periodically carry stories of women murdered by their husbands or boyfriend despite numerous arrests and protection orders. The legal system cannot offer perfect protection, although it can reduce violence.
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