Abusers deserve to be held accountable for their actions. Justice for the victims starts by filing charges against the perpetrator. But what are the options for survivors? How difficult is it to file domestic violence charges and get the justice they deserve?
If you or someone you know wants to explore your legal options, contact your local domestic violence shelter or reach out to the National Domestic Violence Hotline and connect with a victims advocate.
Filing Domestic Violence Charges
There are two ways to file charges against an abuser: criminal or civil courts.
A criminal case takes place through the criminal justice system. To pursue this route, a victim must report the abuse to law enforcement, who will then investigate the case and decide whether criminal charges are warranted. This option works best when pursued immediately after an abuse event. If a survivor reports the violence quickly, police and investigators can take swift action and press charges against the offender.
Criminal cases might take a long time, but the victim won’t pay legal fees. Instead, the case is tried by the local judicial system, with state, county, or local prosecutors filing charges against the abuser. The abuser will likely face jail time, fines, and charges that will appear on their permanent criminal record if convicted.
In some cases, the abuser will face charges whether or not the victim agrees. If the police are involved and make a report, it is ultimately up to the criminal justice system to determine whether to file charges. Having the victim’s help can make a conviction more likely.
Other survivors choose to file domestic violence charges via the civil court system. Survivors might choose this route because it doesn’t require them to report the abuse to the police, and the abuser won’t face any jail time or criminal consequences. In a civil case, justice looks like financial payouts or other reparations made directly to the survivor.
However, with a civil lawsuit, the survivor will have to hire her own lawyer and pay all associated legal fees. If she files a civil suit long after the abuse occurs, it can be difficult to prove the abuse. There is a statute of limitations on domestic violence charges, so victims must file charges within a specific timeframe. That statute of limitations varies by state; check with your local domestic violence resource center or legal counsel for more information.
How Difficult Is It to File Domestic Violence Charges?
Choosing whether to file charges, and which type of case to pursue, can be difficult. Criminal cases require victims to report the abuse to the authorities, often presenting its own challenges and dangers. Some victims say they simply aren’t believed by law enforcement, especially minority victims who try to report. Persons of color, those in same-sex relationships, and other marginalized communities are less likely to report the abuse, making it impossible to file criminal abuse charges.
Filing a civil suit does not require police intervention. However, this process can be costly, and without proper proof and documentation, it can be challenging to hold the abuser accountable.
Providing proof is very important when filing domestic violence charges. Victims who have kept documentation of the abuse have a better chance of filing charges and winning a case against the abuser.
Who Can File Domestic Violence Charges?
Survivors can always pursue legal charges against their abusers as long as they are within their state’s statute of limitations. The sooner a survivor reports the abuse and files charges, the more likely the abuser will be convicted.
Even if the courts decide not to pursue charges, victims can and should apply for legal protections against the abuser. Restraining orders and other legal protections are court-ordered mandates that prevent the abuser from having any contact with the survivor. While these aren’t foolproof, they are an effective legal avenue to help keep victims safe.
Remember, not all survivors want to file charges. Going to court can be a traumatic and sometimes expensive experience. Survivors should always be supported and encouraged to do what is best for their physical and mental well-being.
Reporting Domestic Abuse
If you or someone you know needs to report abusive behavior to the authorities, do it safely. Start by contacting the National Domestic Violence Hotline’s legal help center. You can also contact your local domestic violence shelter or support resource. WodBottom partners will Domestic Abuse Intervention Services in Dane County, WI. Those in the local area can reach out to DAIS for more assistance.