A Look at Domestic Violence

As the Ray Rice “Elevator Knockout” video circulates the internet, commentators everywhere are opening up a dialogue about domestic violence. While we are called upon to denounce violence against women, there are plenty of folks whose attention falls on Rice’s wife. The questions are rolling in about why she stayed, whether she must be okay with abuse, and what role she played in provoking the attack. As various participants in the dialogue attempt to be “fair to both sides”, I am befuddled. I can only assume that these questions arise from ignorance of what domestic violence is all about.

As a family law practitioner, I see domestic violence every single day. Fairness to both sides is never part of the equation. And a woman’s conduct never provokes an attack. Nor are tempers, money trouble, stress, or substance abuse to blame (although such factors may exacerbate a situation). The root cause of domestic violence is always power and control. The intent of domestic violence is always securing submission. It is really that simple. Domestic violence does not occur absent an imbalance of power.

In every relationship where domestic violence exists, there is a pattern of behaviors that are calculated to coerce an intimate partner’s compliance. These behaviors often include verbal insults, emotional abuse, financial manipulation, threats, and mind games. The behaviors are carried out in multiple, sometimes daily, episodes. Physical violence is only a small part of this dynamic. Before a woman is ever physically assaulted, her autonomy typically has been disintegrated piece by piece. There is often a great deal of secrecy and shame involved, which can leave the victim feeling isolated and helpless.

Though there are many resources to help victims of domestic violence, there is no simple solution. On average, a woman will leave an abusive relationship seven times before she leaves for good. Sometimes a step in the journey to breaking the cycle is securing distance between the perpetrator and the victim. This is where attorney assistance in securing an Order of Protection may be valuable.

In Arizona, an Order of Protection may be obtained in any Municipal, Justice, or Superior Court. The victim must show that the perpetrator has committed an act of domestic violence within the past year (or a longer period of time if the court finds that good cause exists to consider a longer time) or that the perpetrator may commit an act of domestic violence in the future. A.R.S. § 13-3602(E)(1) and (2). To include a child on an Order of Protection, the victim must show that there is reasonable cause to believe that physical harm has resulted or may result to the child or that the alleged acts of domestic violence involved the child. An Order of Protection may also be extended to animals. An Order of Protection is not effective until it is served and is effective for one year. If the perpetrator contests an Order of Protection, a hearing must be granted within ten court days (or within five court days if exclusive use of the home is involved).

While an Order of Protection may be useful to assist a domestic violence victim, it is only a tool in securing distance between a victim and a perpetrator. One in three women will be abused at some point in her life. The pervasiveness of domestic violence is evidence we do not have a solution. My gut tells me finding a solution may require us to shift our focus back to the “imbalance of power” that exists in every domestically violent relationship. If you want to escape a domestically violent situation or help another woman in doing so, focus on empowerment. Break the dependence. Break the silence. Break the shame. Educate and empower your daughters, yourself, and domestic violence victims about strategies for how women can maintain autonomy and control of their lives, and thereby, resist falling prey to an abuser. Most importantly, continue this dialogue.