Handling Domestic Violence Issues

Cindy Best

It is important for family law attorneys to be educated about domestic violence. 1,300,000 women in the U.S. are victims of domestic violence by intimate partners every year. Battered women are not the only victims of abuse; it is estimated that anywhere between 3.3 million and 10 million children witness domestic violence annually.

Statutory Definition of Domestic Violence 

Family courts apply the definition of domestic violence found in A.R.S. § 13-3601. Under this statute, domestic violence requires an act and a relationship, both of which must be included in A.R.S. § 13-3601’s definition of domestic violence. The listed acts are all references to the criminal statutes.

Acts Listed in A.R.S. § 13-3601 (A) Relationships in A.R.S. § 13-3601(A).
  • Negligent homicide
  • Manslaughter
  • Murder, first or second degree
  • Endangerment
  • Threatening or intimidating
  • Assault
  • Aggravated assault
  • Custodial interference
  • Unlawful imprisonment
  • Kidnapping
  • Sexual assault
  • Unlawful disclosure of images depicting nudity or sexual activities, as defined by statute.
  • Trespassing
  • Criminal damage
  • Interfering with judicial proceedings
  • Disorderly conduct.[1]
  • Cruel neglect or mistreatment of an animal.[2]
  • Intentionally preventing or interfering with the use of a telephone in an emergency.
  • Harassment, including aggravated harassment.
  • Stalking
  • Surreptitiously photographing, videotaping, filming or digitally recording.
  • Aggravated domestic violence.[3]
  • Child or vulnerable adult abuse.
1. Married, divorced, living together, or previously lived together.2. The victim and the defendant have a child in common.

3. The victim or the defendant is pregnant by the other party.

4. Blood or marriage relationship to defendant or defendant’s spouse as a parent, grandparent, child, grandchild, sibling, parent-in-law, grandparent-in-law, stepparent, step-grandparent, stepchild, step-grandchild, brother-in-law or sister-in-law

5. The victim is a child who resides or has resided in the same household as the defendant and is related by blood to a former spouse of the defendant or to a person who resides or who has resided in the same household as the defendant.

6. The relationship between the victim and the defendant is currently or was previously a romantic or sexual relationship.

 

 

This statutory definition of domestic violence for an order of protection is actually quite narrow. Other professionals who study domestic violence define it much more expansively. As will be seen in the next section, criminal statutes do not encompass domestic violence. You can be a victim of significant domestic violence but not qualify for an Order of Protection according to the criminal statutes above. And you can make a case for domestic violence in family court without an Order of Protection.

Expert View on Domestic Violence

Dr. Jill Messing is the leading domestic violence expert in Arizona. Dr. Messing is a professor at Arizona State University. Her research and teaching focuses on domestic violence. She has published over twenty-five articles in peer-reviewed journals on domestic violence and has presented on domestic violence topics at over fifty academic conferences. She oversees ASU’s domestic violence internship program where forty or more interns are working with victims of domestic violence at any one time. She has trained police on evidence-based police practices regarding domestic violence. She also serves as an expert witness in many family law cases where domestic violence is at issue.

In a recent case report, Dr. Messing provided the following overview of domestic violence:

Dr. Evan Stark, a leading researcher and writer in the field of domestic violence, has described a pattern of abuse in intimate partner relationships called “coercive control.” (See Evan Stark (2007) Coercive Control: How Men Entrap Women in Personal Life).  

Dr. Stark states that the coercive control model best describes the type of domestic violence seen in many relationships because “well over 90% of abusive assaults are non-injurious, relatively minor, and fall far below the radar of an injury-based model.” Additionally, most women in abusive relationships “experience multiple nonviolent tactics.” Women’s experience of domestic violence is not an experience of discrete incidents of abuse; rather, abuse is a continuous experience that primarily includes the use of non-violent tactics: “These tactics run the gamut from sexual exploitation, material deprivation, imprisonment, stalking and harassment to the imposition of rules for how victims carry out their daily affairs.” Thus, within a domestic violence relationship, violence is utilized as only one tactic to exert power and control over the victim and violence is often used only as a reminder of what may happen when the victim acts in a way contrary to the abuser’s expectations or desires. The coercive control model is also useful because it explains why women often present high levels of fear and entrapment as a result of a pattern of abusive and injurious behaviors, rather than just from the most recent incident of violence.

Stark divides the tactics deployed in coercive control into violence, control, intimidation, and isolation.

Violence: Violence is one of the four tactics that batterers use to exert power and control in their relationships. Violence should be seen within the context of patterned abusive behaviors, rather than as distinct incidents of physical or sexual assault. … 

Control: Stark states, “[C]oercive control is personalized, extends through social space as well as over time, and is gendered in that it relies for its impact on women’s vulnerability as women due to sexual inequality.” He gives examples including “the micro-regulation of behaviors associated with stereotypic female roles, such as how women dress, cook, clean, socialize, care for their children, or perform sexually.” ….

Intimidation: Stark states: “Intimidation encompasses the tactics used to induce fear and humiliation and extends from literal threats, stalking and other forms of surveillance … to subtle threats understood only by victims and based on the unique knowledge a partner has because of his privileged access to his victim.” …  

Isolation: Stark goes on to state: “Isolation refers to a subset of control tactics that constrain victims’ access to friends, family, coworkers, helping professionals and other forms of support.”[4]

As can be seen from Dr. Messing’s description, domestic violence is much more than physical acts of violence or criminal acts. Domestic violence is about control. Domestic violence follows a pattern on control—it is not just isolated acts.

 

[1] This does not include disorderly conduct related to disrupting lawful meetings or refusing to obey an order to disperse when in proximity to a fire, hazard, or other emergency.
[2] Only subsections (A)(8) and (A)(9) of A.R.S. § 13-2910 are considered domestic violence.
[3] Three convictions of domestic violence in an 84-month period.
[4] Confidential report issued by Dr. Messing in Maricopa County Superior Court _____________ v. _______________, issued May 26, 2016.
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