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Domestic violence is a very serious problem, and there is no such thing as a "minor" case of domestic violence. From a legal standpoint, domestic violence involves an intersection between family and criminal law.
Domestic violence is generally defined as habitual abusive behaviors between individuals who are in some form of intimate relationship with one another. While the common image of domestic violence entails a husband abusing his wife, it can take place it many different contexts. For example, there are documented cases of husbands suffering emotional (and sometimes physical) abuse at the hands of their wives. While this is likely not as common as violence by husbands against their wives, it is probably more common than one might expect, since most researchers believe that it is seriously underreported.
We also know that parents are sometimes abusive towards their children, but it's not uncommon for adult children to abuse their parents, often in the form of neglect or intimidation.
Domestic violence can also take place between siblings, unmarried couples, same-sex couples, and even roommates.
Nobody knows the exact causes of domestic violence, but most researchers agree that there are many factors, and the exact combination of factors leading to the creation of an abusive relationship will never be the same in any two couples. However, it's well accepted that most people who are prone to become abusers suffer from anger-management and impulse-control problems, as well as low self-esteem. Psychopathy (characterized by, among other things, reduced capacity for empathy) is also more common in abusers than it is in the general population. Alcoholism and other forms of substance abuse are also leading factors.
Legal Recourse for Domestic Violence
If you are a victim of domestic violence, your first act should be to get away from the relationship, and the person who is abusing you. Once you are safe, at least in the short term, you can explore your legal options to ensure that you are more secure in the long term.
First of all, you can go to court and request a restraining order. This is a court order telling the person being restrained that they are not allowed to come within a certain distance of you, your home, or your workplace. If they violate the restraining order, they can be arrested. Furthermore, a person subject to a restraining order for domestic violence who owns a firearm can likely be required to give up their firearm, either by selling it to a licensed gun dealer, or turn it over to local authorities.
You can seek a temporary restraining order "ex parte," meaning that a representative of the person to be restrained does not have to be present. However, if you wish to make the restraining order permanent, the other party will generally need to be given an opportunity to give their side of the story.
Also, if you are married, you can obviously get a divorce. While almost all states have done away with a fault requirement in obtaining a divorce (with New York being a notable exception), most still maintain the traditional grounds for divorce alongside their no-fault system. This means that, if you seek a divorce from an abusive spouse, you can cite "cruelty" as your grounds for divorce. Once the divorce is finalized, this will presumably become a matter of public record.
Domestic violence carries severe criminal penalties for the perpetrator. Depending on the number of offenses, and the types of injuries caused, the perpetrator could end up serving many years in jail. If the abuse leads to the death of the victim, the perpetrator could be charged with murder, and given a sentence of life in prison, or even the death penalty in some states.
Furthermore, a conviction of domestic violence, or any violent crime, can have lifelong consequences, following the perpetrator long after he or she is released from jail. Such convictions can make it more difficult to get a job, or completely shut the perpetrator out of certain lines of work.