One of the most difficult aspects of domestic violence is that it affects a victim’s ability to take self-protective measures. Some people are uncertain whether or not their situation even amounts to domestic violence. Others are simply overwhelmed by their emotional or financial entanglement with the perpetrator.
If you are in either of these situations, it can help to take things one step at a time. If you are in physical danger, your first step is clear: Call 911 or the NJ Domestic Violence Hotline at 1 (800) 572-SAFE (7233). You can also call the hotline if you just have questions about your (or someone else’s) situation, or you can contact an experienced domestic violence attorney free of charge.
While the most obvious domestic violence scenarios involve physical violence, there are actually 14 distinct offenses covered by the New Jersey Prevention of Domestic Violence Act, N.J.S.A.2C:25-17 et seq. (NJPDVA).
Here are three very different NJ domestic violence case studies:
Alicia and Carl have been married for 10 years and have two young children. Carl is not physically violent, but he frequently belittles Alicia, swears at her, and calls her “stupid” or “ignorant.” He discourages her from pursuing activities outside the home and tries to prevent her from visiting her sister by taking away her car keys. On one occasion he barricaded her into the bedroom for almost an hour. Alicia has grown increasingly depressed and her circle of support has dwindled. She has thought about leaving Carl, but she depends on him for financial support and doesn’t know what she would do without him.
Alicia is a victim of verbal and emotional abuse. Communicating in offensively coarse language or in an annoying or alarming manner can amount to “harassment,” and preventing someone from leaving the home can be “false imprisonment.” Both of these offenses are included in the NJPDVA.
Because Alicia’s self-esteem has been affected by Carl’s behavior, she is having trouble recognizing the seriousness of her situation. Not only has his behavior injured her emotionally, but it poses a risk of progression to physical violence. Since this has not yet happened, Alicia has time to make a plan. She can help herself immediately by consulting with both a therapist and a family law attorney to get some perspective on her situation and some advice regarding her best next steps. Rather than accede to Carl’s efforts to curtail her contacts outside the home, she should do everything in her power to strengthen such sources of support. Possibly she and her children could stay with her sister while she sorts out a long-term plan. An attorney can discuss the applicability of the restraining order process with her and help her obtain temporary orders for spousal support and child support.
Adam and Janice dated for about a year and a half and broke up six months ago. Since then, Janice has called Adam almost every day. At first she would just cry and tell him she missed him, but more recently she’s left angry messages telling him that she hopes someday he will suffer the way he made her suffer. She has also come to his house uninvited several times, begging to talk. On two occasions, she came in through the unlocked backdoor and was waiting for him inside when he came home. A couple of weeks ago, Adam left work and found a long deep scratch along the side of his car. A friend later told him he had seen Janice lurking in the parking lot that day. He advised Adam to report the matter to the police. Adam doesn’t want to do this. He feels sorry for Janice and guilty for hurting her. He wishes he could help her instead of getting her into more trouble.
While Adam is right that Janice needs help, he cannot be the one to help her and instead needs to focus on his own safety. Not only has Janice engaged in “harassment,” she has also committed “criminal trespass” by entering Adam’s home unlawfully, and “criminal mischief” by damaging his property. Her behavior has escalated into a pattern known as “stalking.” All of these offenses are included in the NJPDVA. Adam would be wise to consult an attorney about getting a restraining order against Janice.
Becky and John have been living together for two years. At first Becky felt extremely lucky to have John in her life. He has been enormously kind and helpful and has made her feel very special. Unfortunately John sometimes drinks to excess. After one of these occasions, Becky followed him into the bedroom yelling at him, and he pushed her so hard that she fell to the floor. In the morning he apologized profusely, and she tried to put the incident out of her mind. Soon after that however, John lost his job and his drinking escalated. They had another heated argument, during which he slapped Becky across the face. Afterward, he broke down in tears, telling her how much he loves her, how sorry he is, and how useless he feels without a job.
Becky is now very depressed herself. She cannot imagine leaving John, especially in his current fragile state. Nevertheless, Becky needs to seek help for herself and find somewhere else to stay as soon as possible. John’s actions amount to “simple assault,” which is a crime covered by the NJPDVA. In spite of John’s contrition, there is a high probably that he will repeat his actions, and the violence may also escalate.
Domestic Violence is a complex problem, but whatever your situation may be, help is available. For a complete list of the 14 offenses included in the NJDVPA and additional information see: How to File Forms & Understand The Restraining Order Process in a Domestic Violence Case.