Domestic Violence or family violence is the abuse of power or control . It is behavior used by one person to control another through force or threats. A batterer makes a choice to strike, hit, kick, punch or threaten the victim.

Domestic violence includes physical and sexual attacks and threats. These violent acts are criminal and the batterer can be prosecuted for committing them. The acts are a means of controlling the victim’s thoughts, feelings and behavior. The violence does not lessen over time. The threats and / or beatings generally happen more often with time, last longer and cause greater physical injuries.

Emotional abuse and insulting words are almost always part of the abuse pattern, but are not considered criminal acts. The wounds from these injuries, however , may be more difficult to heal.

Domestic violence is not caused by or provoked by the actions or inaction’s of the victim. Domestic violence is not directly caused by alcohol or drug abuse, depression, lack of money, lack of a job, mental illness or abuse as a child. However, existing problems often create additional stress in a relationship and may increase the risk of violence. Many abusers blame the victim or other things for their violent acts and do not take responsibility for the abusive behavior. There is never an excuse for violence.

WHAT IS THE LEGAL DEFINITION OF ABUSE?
Chapter 209A, the Massachusetts Abuse Prevention Act, defines abuse as :

  • Actual physical abuse, or
  • An attempt to harm another, or
  • Placing another in fear of serious physical harm, or
  • Causing another to engage in sexual relations by force, threat of force or duress

WHAT IS A 209A ORDER?
An Abuse Prevention Order, called a “209A Order,” or a “protective order,” or “restraining order,” is a civil court order intended to provide protection from physical or sexual harm caused by force or threat of harm from a family or household member. You can obtain an order against:

  • A spouse or former spouse
  • A present or former household member
  • A relative by blood or a present or former relative by marriage
  • The parent of your minor child
  • A person with whom you have or had a substantial dating relationship.

WHERE CAN I GET A 209A ORDER?
A 209A Order can be obtained in any District Court, Superior Court , or Probate and Family Court in Massachusetts. An emergency 209A Order can be obtained through any police department after court hours, on weekends and holidays. You do not need a lawyer to file for a 209A Order4 and there is no charge for filing.

HOW CAN I GET AN ORDER IN DISTRICT COURT?
Should you decide to go to a District Court for a 209A Order, you may go to the District Court in the area where you live or, if you have fled to another area to avoid abuse, you may go to the District Court in the area where you now live (see list of resources, p.14). Go to the Clerk’s Office in the court and ask for a “protective order” or a “209A Order,” You will receive a packet of forms to complete as an application for a protective order.

In some courts, there may be a Court Advocate from a local battered women’s service agency to help you with the form. A Victim/Witness Advocate from the District Attorney’s Office is also usually available for assistance and to discuss the option of filing criminal charges against your abuser. Ask someone at the Clerk’s Office to direct you to the District Attorney’s Victim/ Witness Office for help. You do not have to file criminal charges in order to obtain a 209A Order. However, criminal charges can be helpful in holding a batterer responsible for criminal acts committed against you . If there is a criminal violation, the Court can also require a batterer to obtain counseling or other treatment.

WHAT QUESTIONS ARE ASKED ON THE FORM?
On the application or complaint forms for a 209A order, you need to make a sworn statement (affidavit) describing the facts of any recent or past incidents of abuse. It is important to provide as much information about the abuser as possible. You must also disclose any other existing 209A Orders from any court or any Probate Court action you are involved in, including any divorce or child custody proceedings.

WHAT RELIEF CAN I ASK FOR ON THE APPLICATION?
You may request the judge to order that the abuser:

  • Stop or refrain from abusing you
  • Have no contact with you or a child in your custody
  • Vacate or move out of the house or apartment where you live.

You may also request the judge to order that you receive support and temporary custody of your children, if the abuser has a legal duty to support or shares custody. You may request payment for medical costs incurred due to injuries caused by the abuser and related loss of wages. You may ask that the abuser not contact you at work or at a relative’s home, and that your new address be kept confidential from the abuser for your safety.