Domestic violence is a big subject, in many ways. This is meant to highlight potential issues and solutions. By no means is this meant to guide you without further safety planning and consultation with a competent professional, whether an attorney or a local shelter or the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
Domestic violence can arise in any intimate relationship: boyfriend/girlfriend, husband/wife, parent/child, child/parent, or in a same sex partnership, or with someone you do not know well, someone you dated. Regardless of the type of relationship in which the violence has arisen, it is paramount that you realize that you are not to blame – no matter what your abuser has told you. You also need to be prepared to seek and accept the legal relief that is your right under Florida law. If you are the victim of abuse, call immediately the Florida Abuse Hotline at 800/962.2873. There is help for you, and you can be safe if you proceed carefully with the assistance of competent professionals.
Abuse takes many forms. Whether you are being followed everywhere, verbally berated, isolated from friends and family members, controlled financially, or physically beaten, you are being abused. Under our court system, this entitles you to protection. You may seek and obtain a court order prohibiting further contact by your abuser. If your abuser violates such a court order, the repercussions will be serious. While there is no requirement that you have an attorney to seek these protections, an attorney may certainly be helpful to you in getting through the process.
Abuse has many ramifications. The victims of domestic violence frequently suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, “battered women’s syndrome” or depression. Children who are the victims of – or witnesses to – family violence also may suffer from PTSD. Our local community provides programs for all of these, and you are urged to contact the Women’s Resource Center, or the Child Protection Center, to name just two.
Often abuse is coupled with drinking or drug use in the home. There are many local treatment programs available for these, as well. Locally there is First Step, or Salvation Army. Any professional who works with family violence cases will be able to refer you to other resources in the community, whether you can afford to hire your own professionals, or whether you want to take advantage of the no-cost services which are available.
You have legal rights. Through a domestic violence case which may be filed at your local Clerk of Court’s office, you can get an order of protection for yourself or on behalf of your children. Depending upon the facts, the Court might order your abuser to attend a batterers’ intervention program, or the Court may force the abuser to leave the home, while requiring the abuser to pay child support. The abuser may need to see the children at a supervised visitation center. If the Court permits it, you may be able to relocate with the children to a place where there is more family support, or which is better for the children for some other reason.
If the abuse is affecting a minor child in your household, either directly or indirectly, you should consider contacting the Department of Children and Family Services hotline. Many parents are fearful of contacting the hotline, because they have the impression that they may lose control over their own children if they report family violence. If you have done nothing wrong, you have nothing to fear from DCF. However, if you allow violence to be inflicted upon you or the children and do not report it or take other steps to protect yourself and your children, DCF may fault you for that failure to protect.
There are occasions when someone is falsely accused of domestic violence. The accused should take this very seriously. There are ways to “clear one’s good name,” and you are well-advised not to simply agree to entry of a domestic violence injunction because you do not care to be around the person seeking the injunction anyway. This is particularly true if you have children with the person who is accusing you of being abusive. If false claims of abuse are made and accepted by the court, you may be required to see your children on a supervised basis, at least for a period of time. There may be other limitations placed upon your ability to see your children.
Violence in the home may seem overwhelming. You may have lived in a certain way for so long that it has begun to seem “normal.” Yet it is never too late. Please take that first step now to get yourself the help you need.
For more information, call Leslie Loftus at 941-364-2404.