Haitian women all too often fail to identify and protect themselves again domestic violence in the realm of family relationships. When domestic violence occurs some of the victims feel trapped and alone. Domestic violence can be defined as a pattern of abusive behavior in any relationship that is used by one partner to gain or maintain power and control over another intimate partner. The Violence Against Women Act of 1994 (VAWA) is a federal law which was passed on September 13, 1994, under President Clinton’s administration. Currently, many states have their own Domestic Violence Act, which are all designed to protect victims. VAWA, supports the belief that women have the legal rights to live free from physical harm, verbal and physical abuse and threats. While laws cannot guarantee a woman’s safety, it does give her some shield against domestic violence. Every Haitian woman should become familiar with the federal laws and their home state’s laws pertaining to domestic violence. Every Haitian woman should become familiar with the different degrees of protection which these laws offer. The purpose of this article is to introduce its readers to some general information about domestic violence and the laws which were enacted to protect its victims. If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic violence, seek help. There are many agencies which provide legal services, counseling, shelter and many other services. You can easily find these agencies on the internet, yellow pages and in the Family and Criminal Courts of your county. All you need to do is ask for help.
WHAT IS DOMESTIC VIOLENCE?
Domestic violence can be physical, sexual, emotional, economic, or psychological actions or threats of actions that influence another person. This includes any behaviors that intimidate, manipulate, humiliate, isolate, frighten, terrorize, coerce, threaten, blame, hurt, injure, or wound someone.
WHERE DO YOU GO TO FILE A COMPLAINT?
If you are the victim of domestic violence you have several options: 1) you can call the police to come to your assistance; 2) you can go to your local police station and request assistance; 3) you can seek assistance from an anti-domestic violence advocacy group in your area and 4) you may seek help from the court. Depending on your situation you may be able to file a criminal and civil complaint in court to obtain an order of protection or restraining order against the abuser. Each of these types of orders carries significant penalties if the abuser is found to be in violation of the terms of the order. I you are in fear for your safety or life seek assistance from the police, court and an anti-domestic violence advocacy group immediately.
WHAT IS A TEMPORARY RESTRAINING ORDER?
In the United States, a temporary restraining order (TRO) must be issue by either a Domestic Violence Hearing Officer or a judge. A TRO is an order of the court, which directs the accused/respondent to refrain from doing certain acts against the victim. The (TRO), once issued must be served upon the abuser along with a summons or order to appear in court. A follow up court date will be set so that you may appear in court and explain to a judge why you are in need of a permanent order protection.
HOW DO YOU OBATAIN A FINAL RESTRIANING ORDER?
In order for the court to issue a Final Restraining Order/Final Order of Protection on the judge must hear testimony from the victim. You will need to testify regarding the abuser’s actions against you. You will need to be prepared to tell all of the details even if they are difficult to repeat. You may even have to testify about past abuse. You have the burden of proving the allegations against the abuser.
The abuser will have the opportunity to defend him or herself in court. The judge will weigh the evidence presented by both parties. If the victim offered the required amount of evidence in support of a final order of protection, and the court finds that the abuser did commit certain acts against the victim, the court may issue a final order of protection.
Domestic violence proceedings in court can sometimes be complicating or confusing and stressful. It is advisable to have an attorney or advocacy group assist. Information about how to contact local domestic violence advocacy groups and legal services are available in the courts, in the Yellow Pages (and similar directories) and on-line.
WHAT ARE THE PROTECTIONS OFFERED BY A FRO?
The protections offered by a FRO are numerous. They are tailored to your specific needs. By way of example, the court may order the abuser to stay from your home, your place of employment, your children, etc. It may direct the abuser to surrender any and all firearm or weapons. It may direct the abuser to undergo a mental health evaluation and enroll in mental health therapy or counseling. The court may order the abuser to pay child support and household bills for a certain period of time. The reliefs afforded by the domestic violence laws vary and will depend on your situation.
Domestic violence not only affects those who are abused, but also has a substantial effect on family members, friends, co-workers, other witnesses, and the community at large. Children, who grow up witnessing domestic violence, are among those seriously affected by this crime. Frequent exposure to violence in the home not only predisposes children to numerous social and physical problems, but also teaches them that violence is a normal way of life- therefore, increasing their risk of becoming society’s next generation of victims and abusers.* Although there is no guarantees for your safety, there are laws that exist to protect you. Seek counsel and act immediately if you feel threatened and abused.
*Sources: National Domestic Violence Hotline, National Center for Victims of Crime, and WomensLaw.org.