PLEASE BE AWARE THAT MANY ABUSERS MONITOR THEIR PARTNER’S ONLINE ACTIVITY. MAKE SURE YOU ARE READING THIS FROM A SECURE DEVICE AND THAT YOUR BROWSER HISTORY IS NOT AVAILABLE TO YOUR ABUSER.
1 in 6 women are victims of relationship abuse.
“Bitch” “Whore” “Slut” “Crazy” . . . You are not what he says you are.
Intimate partner abuse can happen to anybody. The law can keep him away.
Abuse always involves control. It is never something that is deserved. If you are scared of leaving a relationship for fear of what your partner might do to you, you are not alone. We help many people who feel like captives. People stay in controlling relationships for many reasons. Some stay because as bad as the relationship may be, they are crippled by fear that the retaliation will be worse. They fear he’ll spread lies on social media, try to get them fired, turn friends and family against them, share secrets and naked pictures, threaten to kill himself. By the time some people are ready to leave a relationship, they may feel stuck because he controls the money and they are overwhelmed by the moving and housing costs of leaving. And it’s further complicated if kids are in the picture.
Relationship abuse takes many forms. Just because physical force has not been used on you does not mean you are not suffering. One study found that emotional abuse is the greatest predictor of physical abuse and can be the most seriously dangerous form of abuse. Victims of emotional abuse are more likely to be suicidal and the abuser is more likely to commit murder or murder-suicide. People in emotionally abusive situations report they feel numb from the repetitive psychological manipulation. His jealous rages and unsubstantiated accusations of infidelity become the new normal. Many are “gaslighted” — with him making her feel crazy by insisting that something happened that didn’t or by denying incidents that did actually take place. They report feeling separated from their own life and a loss of identity because of all the changes they’ve made to dodge his outbursts — altering how they act, who they see, how they look, the opinions they express, the activities they enjoy, what they eat, the sex they have.
We help victims plan a safe escape when they are ready. We represent them in family court for orders of protection and civil court if they are seeking further compensation for the hell they endured.
We Address the Following:
An order of protection restrains the behavior of somebody who harms or threatens to harm you. It may direct the offending person not to injure, threaten, or harass you or your children. It may direct the offending person to stay away from you and your children, move out of your home, handover firearms, refrain from all contact with you, etc.
Through family court, survivors can obtain a temporary order of protection that very same day. (Be sure to go early in the day!) The temporary order of protection will have most of the same limits as a permanent one and will be in effect until there’s a final disposition on the matter.
We can go with a client to obtain a temporary order of protection or simply instruct her on what to do. We can also take over after she already has one.
In most states, family court limits who it has jurisdiction over. Typically a close relationship between the survivor and offender (“petitioner” and “respondent”) is required; such as being members of the same household, having a child together, being in an intimate relationship or previously in one, married or previously married, etc. Thus, if the offender is not somebody the victim knows in one of these ways, only civil or criminal court is an option. More states are providing family court jurisdiction to victims of stalking who did not have a prior intimate relationship with their stalker. New York is not one of those states.
How it works: A survivor (with or without an attorney) goes to family court and says she wants to commence a family offense proceeding (in New York, this is Article 8 of the Family Court Act). She will then talk to a clerk who will listen to the survivor’s allegations and convert her words into a petition and affidavit. The survivor must allege that at least one family offense occurred. Family offenses are specific criminal statutes. In New York family offenses include disorderly conduct, harassment, aggravated harassment, sexual misconduct, forcible touching, sexual abuse, menacing, stalking, reckless endangerment, strangulation, assault, and obstruction of breathing or circulation. The survivor will confirm that the petition is accurate and then sign it. The clerk will then assign a judge who will read the petition and briefly bring the survivor into the courtroom. If the petition convinces the judge that she has a reasonable fear of harm based on past abusive conduct or threats and that any further delay may expose her to imminent harm, the judge may issue a temporary order of protection that very day. This order (the temporary order of protection) will be available in the clerk’s office. The temporary order of protection will have specific instructions demanding that the offender stay away from the survivor. It is important to read the temporary order of protection and make sure it contains all the protections needed, but note that only the survivor and her children can be protected. It does not usually extend to other family members or friends outside the household. In addition to the temporary order of protection, the survivor will also have a notice of oetition and petition. The notice of petition will provide a return date. The temporary order of protection most likely will only be in effect until that return date. All three documents must be served on the offender. The offender must show up on that return date or else the survivor will receive a default judgment awarding her a permanent temporary order of protection. Before she can obtain the default judgment, though, she must show that the papers were properly served on the offender and prove the merits of her case.
On the day she goes to court for the temporary order of protection, it’s key to have her thoughts and statements organized and prepared ahead of time. She’ll want to bring contact information for the offender and herself (she may keep her contact information private on the petition), detailed information about the first, the most recent, and the most severe acts of domestic violence. If stalking is alleged, she should tally up the frequency of contacts, the method, and the number of other people who were also contacted. She should not add extraneous information to her statements — explain why she is scared, and be factual.
Many individuals are able to obtain the initial temporary order of protection in family court without an attorney. Some communities have legal services that provide free counsel to those who qualify financially. Others have volunteers who will assist people with the process of filing for an order of protection. Having an attorney on the return date will make life much easier, especially when it comes time for the actual hearing for the permanent order of protection.
A permanent order of protection is obtained only after a hearing with a judgment in her favor or if the offender agrees not to fight it. Even if the offender does not show up, a hearing, called an inquest, is necessary at which point she must prove the offender was properly served and also must prove the elements of the family offense(s) alleged in the petition.
The survivor is responsible for serving the family court temporary order of protection petition and notice of petition on the offender along with the petition and notice of court date. The temporary order of protection is not enforceable until it is served on the offender. Though she is responsible for serving the offender, she is not allowed to do it herself. Somebody else must do it and that person must sign an affidavit of service which the survivor must bring to court on the return date. In many places law enforcement officers will serve family court orders of protection, but this can be a logistical nightmare. Hiring a process server is always an option for delivering the court papers.
On the first return date, even if the offender shows up, it is unlikely a hearing for a permanent order of protection will be held that very same day. Often offenders want to postpone (called an “adjournment”) the hearing to give them time to obtain a lawyer. If that’s the case, the judge will extend the temporary order of protection. Sometimes it can be several months until a hearing actually occurs.
The survivor should realize that she will be face-to-face with the offender on the family court return date. This can be frightening for people leaving an abusive relationship whose biggest desire is to avoid their ex. Most courts have special rooms where survivors can wait until their case is called so they can minimize contact with the abuser. She should bring a support person with her to court on the return date. She should also arrive early to lessen the likelihood that she will run into the offender in the elevator or security line.
Some angry exes file cross-complaints to further abuse their victims and may even seek orders of protection against them. Unfortunately, some exes with a disregard for the law and authority, may even react to a temporary order of protection with more aggression. It is hard to predict how somebody will react and survivors will want to be in a safe place and with others after their abuser is served the Temporary Order of Protection. If a survivor suspects he will react violently, she should get the police involved.
If the survivor lives with the offender and the temporary order of protection requires that he stay away from the home, the police may escort him to your home to collect some of his personal belongings.
Family court records are generally not accessible to the public without information about the docket number or case file.
The family court orders of protection are boilerplate and, in most places, they will not have specific language barring the offender from aggressing against the victim on social media or posting nude pictures online. Some judges may be willing to add the language.
If family court does not have jurisdiction over the offender, there are two other ways to restrict somebody’s behavior:
- Criminal court – After somebody is arrested for domestic violence-related claim, judges will frequently issue a temporary order of protection requiring the offender stay away from the victim. The victim has less control over the outcome than in family court.
- Civil court – Victims may seek an injunction to stop harmful behavior and the judge may issue a preliminary temporary restraining order pending the outcome of the case. These cases can be trickier for an unrepresented victim to navigate, but may be the only option if there’s no intimate relationship between the offender and the victim and no criminal proceeding.
Definitions of stalking vary, but it’s illegal in all 50 states. Generally stalking is a course of conduct directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to feel fear. It’s serious, often violent, and can escalate. Criminal stalking laws are here and civil laws are here. Stalking can and should be reported to the police. We can also obtain an Order of Protection in family court if the offender is an ex. If you want general information about stalking, the Stalking Resource Center is a powerful resource. If you need legal help, we are here to assist.
In NY, the definition of stalking is:
Intentionally, for no legitimate purpose, engaging in a course of conduct, knowing or reasonably should know that such conduct is likely to cause or causes reasonable fear of material harm to physical health, safety or property of such person, a member of such person’s immediate family, or a third party acquaintance; or is likely to cause such person to reasonably fear that his/her employment, business or career is threatened.
If you are being stalked, please be careful on social media. Immediately restrict your Facebook settings, require permission for anybody to post on your wall or tag you in a photo, and make your friends list private. Enable two-factor authentication on all accounts, devices, cloud storage systems, modems, create unique complex passphrases and answer security questions in unexpected ways (e.g., “Q: What’s your mother’s maiden name? A: The Dress is White and Gold”). Lock your doors. Stay alert. Stay safe.
In New York, the definition of harassment is:
With intent to harass, annoy, or alarm, to actually, attempt or threaten to physically contact another with intent to harass, annoy, or alarm another;
to follow a person in or about public places; or to engage in a course of conduct or repeatedly commit acts which alarm or seriously annoy such other person and which serve no legitimate purpose.
Harassment is illegal pursuant to Article 240.25-26 of the New York Penal Law.
Abusers control their victims. If a victim leaves, the abuser suddenly feels a loss of control and the reaction can be violent. It is essential that considerable planning accompany the decision to leave an abusive relationship and that special care be taken even after you leave. If you are planning on leaving your abuser, we can help you make a safety plan. You’ll want to think about the friends and family who can help, where you could go, how you could leave, getting together your personal belongings, changing your phone number, opening a bank account or credit card, ensuring your devices are not being tracked, changing your passwords and adjusting your privacy settings on social media to avoid being monitored, communicating with work, installing strong locks and security systems, changing your routine. We can help plan for your safety.
While federal law does not specifically protect victims of domestic violence from employment discrimination, the application of Title VII and the Americans with Disabilities Act together provide some protections. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued a statement that if a victim of domestic violence is terminated due to fear of the potential “drama battered women bring to the workplace” that may constitute discrimination based on sex. If an employer is concerned that a victim of domestic violence may pose workplace risks, the employer should seek solutions such as obtaining workplace security or getting a temporary restraining order against the offender. Any knee-jerk decision to fire the victim could make the employer liable.
If a potential employer refuses to hire a victim of domestic violence because of actual or perceived impairments resulting from the abuse, such as the concern that she may require time off for treatment from injuries, that could violate the ADA. Employers may need to make reasonable accommodations pursuant to the ADA for victims of domestic violence such as approving requests for unpaid leave to treat depression and anxiety.
Many states including New York (NY Exec Law 296(1)(a) and 292(5) have specific laws that protect victims of domestic violence from discrimination in the workplace. In New York, a victim of domestic violence can not be discriminated against by an employer. A person may not be fired nor not hired solely because she is a victim of domestic violence. Employers must treat victims of domestic violence the same as others in terms of privileges, pay, and benefits. New York Penal Law 215.14 also protects victims of domestic violence crimes from being fired if they must miss work to testify in the criminal case, meet with a district attorney, or seek an order of protection in criminal or family court. If a victim is fired for attending any of these things despite having provided advanced notice to her employer, she should call the police because it’s criminal. She may also file a claim with the New York State Division of Human Rights.
Through Civil Court, survivors can exact justice for themselves, suing the abuser. Unlike in criminal court, where it is the State against the abuser, the survivor is in the driver’s seat as the plaintiff in a civil proceeding. Unlike in family court, the victim can seek real financial compensation.
Bringing a civil case is a huge decision. It’s not right for everybody. In fact, it’s not right for most people. It’s important to us that survivors know all the pros and cons of a decision this big. The process itself can be long, burdensome, frustrating, and sometimes public. Plus, it guarantees continued contact (in court) with the abuser. Old patterns of abuse may play out in the courtroom with the abuser making false counter-claims and distorting reality. This can be triggering. Since financial compensation is usually the goal (assuming an order of protection has already been obtained in family or criminal court) of relevance is the potential defendant’s financial resources. Despite the downsides, it can also be empowering for survivors to demand that their abuser pay for what he did and to have her “day in court.”
It is a crime to violate a temporary or final Order of Protection. If the offender violates the order, you can call the police and seek to have the offender arrested. Violence need not occur. Even if the offender sends you an email, text, or gift that still constitutes a violation if the order says those communications are not allowed. You can also seek to file a violation in family court, but this won’t likely result in an arrest. Rather, calling the police will.
Below is a list of New York laws that pertain to common behaviors present in abusive situations. If you report his conduct to the police, consider printing out the relevant laws he broke:
- Falsely reports that you committed a crime (Falsely reporting an Incident NYP 240.50-60)
- Demands you do something you have the legal right not to do, or demands you not do something you have the legal right to do, and forces your compliance by instilling in you a fear that if the demand is not met, you or somebody else will be injured, or your property destroyed, or a crime will be committed, or you will be accused of a crime, or a secret will be exposed, whether true or false, subjecting you to hatred, contempt or ridicule, or somebody’s health, safety, business, calling, career, finances, reputation or personal relationships will be harmed in a material way without it causing benefit to the offender (Coercion in the second degree NYP135.60) Example: You try to break up with him and he threatens to distribute nude photos of you if you do.
- Impersonates another and does an act in an assumed character to obtain a benefit or to injure or defraud (Criminal impersonation in the second degree NYP 190.25) Example: He creates fake e-mail accounts or social media accounts to harm you, or publishes ads impersonating you that solicit sex
- Intimidates you into not testifying against him (Intimidating a victim or witness NYP 215.15-17)
- Sends naked pictures or videos of you to underage persons (Disseminating indecent materials to minors NYP 235.21
- Uses your computer without permission. (Unauthorized use of a Computer, NYP 156.05)
- Erases content on your computer (Computer tampering in the fourth degree NYP 156.20)
- Downloads or prints out content from your computer knowing that doing so will cost you $2,500 or more in value or that content is to be used to commit a felony (Unlawful duplication of computer related material in the first degree NYP 156.30, criminal possession of computer related material NYP 156.35)
- Tricks you into signing something (Fraudulently obtaining a signature NYP 165.20)
- Forges your signature (Forgery NYP 170.05-15)
- Steals your property (Criminal possession of stolen property NYP 165.40 – 54)
- Films or photographs you undressing or in the bathroom or doing something sexual without your knowledge or consent (Unlawful surveillance NYP 250.45-50)
- Distributes the material obtained through unlawful surveillance (Dissemination of unlawful surveillance NYP 250.55-60)
16 Warning signs of emotional abuse
All abuse looks different and the process of even admitting to yourself that a relationship is abusive can take some time, particularly for those of us who self-identify as empowered, capable people. Consider the following:
- He blames you for things that have nothing to do with you. Early signs of this may involve him talking about how his crazy ex ruined his life.
- He feels that the world is unjust. He fails to recognize that life can be disappointing and always attributes his failures to other forces. He acts as though he has been singled out as the bearer of all injustices.
- Life owes him something. Because he has been so unjustly treated in life, so he thinks, he feels entitled to break rules and disregard the law.
- Even the little things are big things. Somebody cutting him off on the road can cause him to unleash the fury.
- He lies. When he describes his past, it is extremely tragic and triumphant. He lies about the little things too.
- He’s jealous. Something as small as you smiling at male waiter can make him pout for hours.
- Delusionally jealous. He is constantly accusing you of cheating on him. If you come home late from work, it’s because you were having sex with your boss. If you do not text him back within thirty seconds, it’s because you were having sex with his best friend.
- He gaslights. He is constantly manipulating history. He claims you are crazy for not remembering certain things that you know did not happen. Or he denies things that did actually happen.
- He adopts your traumas. After confiding in him about a past crisis, his reaction quickly moves from concern and protectiveness to obsession, as if it had happened to him.
- Almost every relationship in his life is tumultuous or estranged. Including with his old friends, family members, and colleagues (if he has a job).
- His exes have restraining orders, but he claims they falsely reported him. He also claims they are drug addicts, cheaters, mentally ill.
- He is instantly over-the-top. His affection for you is instant and passionate and you are besieged by constant gifts and attention. The relationship gets very serious very quickly.
- You make decisions based on keeping his anger at bay. You are always walking on eggshells and you stop doing things you enjoy and seeing people you like because it’s easier not to.
- Sex is on his terms and your boundaries are not respected or acknowledged.
- He is reckless. With money, with driving, with thrill seeking.
- Every argument leaves you feeling conquered and disoriented.
Here on our web site we tend to use female pronouns when talking about victims of abuse, and masculine pronouns when talking about perpetrators. This is a deliberate choice based on a number of things, including the demographics of our clients. It is essential to note that men can be victims of abuse and women can be perpetrators of it. Abuse happens both in straight and same-sex relationships. Two in five gay or bisexual men will experience intimate-partner violence in their lifetimes. Half of all lesbian women will experience it. Transgender people are at the highest risk of intimate partner violence and are 2.6 times more likely to experience it than a straight person.