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Who Are Victims of Domestic Violence?

Posted by Ronald D. Hedding | Jun 18, 2024

Domestic violence can happen in any relationship, regardless of income level, religion, or education. Abuse might occur between married people or between unmarried people living together or in a dating relationship.

Research has revealed that some people are more likely to become victims of domestic violence, such as people with low self-esteem, those who tolerate abusive behavior, those who are financially dependent on the abuser, those with the unrealistic belief they can change the abuser, and those who feel powerless to stop the violence.

Victims of Domestic Violence
California law defines who can be legally considered a domestic violence victim.

While domestic abuse can happen to anyone, women are by far the most frequent victims. The Department of Justice estimates that 95% of the assaults on partners or spouses are committed by men against women.

Female victims of domestic violence often have some common characteristics, such as abusing alcohol and drugs, being previously abused, being poor, pregnant, having limited support, and having partners who also abuse alcohol or other substances.

Additionally, many women victims of domestic abuse have previously left their abuser, members of ethnic minority or immigrant groups, and have requested a restraining order against the abuser. Many do not speak English.

It can be difficult for a victim of domestic violence to acknowledge that abuse is occurring, especially when it's not physical abuse but rather emotional or psychological.

Leaving domestic violence is frequently a process that doesn't happen all at once because of fear of the abuser and the need to ensure they have the resources to leave and continue their life in peace. The local community might have services to help some through a women's shelter or health center.

In the state of California, what sets domestic violence apart from other criminal acts is mainly the relationship between the victim and the accused.

What Are the Domestic Violence Laws in California?

Domestic violence laws in California make it a crime to harm, or threaten to harm, your current or former spouse, cohabitant, co-parent, or dating or intimate partner. The most common domestic violence charges are:

PC 243(e)(1) says, "When a battery is committed against a spouse, a person with whom the defendant is cohabiting, a person who is the parent of the defendant's child, former spouse, fiancé, or fiancée, or a person with whom the defendant currently has, or has previously had a dating or engagement relationship, the battery is punishable by a fine not exceeding two thousand dollars ($2,000), or by imprisonment in a county jail for not more than one year, or by both that fine and imprisonment. "

Suppose probation is granted, or the execution or imposition of the sentence is suspended. In that case, it shall be a condition of the sentence that the defendant participates in and completes a batterer's treatment program, as described in Penal Code Section 1203.097, for no less than one year or, if none is available, another appropriate counseling program designated by the court.

"Dating relationship" means frequent, intimate associations primarily characterized by the expectation of affectional or sexual involvement independent of financial considerations.

You need to understand who can be legally categorized as a victim of domestic violence matters due to the fact it has an impact on how the alleged crime will be charged, as well as the immediate use of protective orders and the consequences for a conviction.

What is the Definition of a Domestic Violence Victim?

Under California law, specific relationships between the perpetrator and the victim qualify someone as a victim of domestic violence. Notably, these types of relationships are not just limited to marriage but extend to other forms of intimate or familial connections, such as the following:

  • Current or Former Spouse. Domestic violence mainly occurs among married couples. If the alleged victim is legally married to the accused, then this relationship falls under the definition of domestic violence.
  • Current or Former Cohabitant. This is someone who has lived with the accused in an intimate relationship. This does not always mean they were married or engaged but shared a domestic life, such as expenses, household duties, and emotional bonds.
  • Somebody You Are Seriously Dating or Have Dated. This category includes people currently in a serious dating relationship with the accused or those who have previously dated. The focus is on the seriousness of the relationship, which differentiates it from casual interactions.
  • Partners Who Share a Child. Suppose the accused and the alleged victim share a child, regardless of their marital status or if they live together. In that case, the victim falls under the definition of a domestic violence victim. This highlights the importance of protecting individuals involved in parental relationships.
  • Current or Former Fiancée. People who are engaged or previously engaged to be married. This acknowledges the serious nature of the engagement relationship, even if it does not end up in marriage.
  • Current or Former Registered Domestic Partner. Whether someone is a current or former registered partner, they are also protected under domestic violence statutes. This category includes same-sex couples who have chosen to register their partnership with the state.

Why Does Domestic Violence Categories Matter?

California domestic violence crimes are handled differently and more seriously than similar acts of violence involving strangers or mere acquaintances.

Victims of domestic violence are eligible for stronger and more immediate protections against their alleged abuser. Anyone accused often faces severe punishments, not only after they are convicted but usually before charges are even formally filed, such as the following:

  • Restraining Orders. One of the immediate actions in domestic violence cases is the judge issuing a restraining order, also called a protective order. Knowing the nature of the relationship helps the court determine eligibility for these orders. A restraining order often imposes various restrictions on the defendant, such as no-contact provisions, removal from shared homes, and temporary custody arrangements for children.
  • Harsher Penalties. Domestic violence convictions have more severe punishments than similar crimes committed against non-intimate partners. Thus, sentences might include longer jail time, mandatory counseling, and extended probation.
  • Child Custody and Visitation Rights. In cases where the defendant shares children with the victim, domestic violence accusations could potentially impact custody and visitation rights. Courts are more likely to restrict or supervise a defendant's access to children to prioritize the children's safety and well-being.
  • Longer Statute of Limitations. While the statute of limitations in California is typically one year for most misdemeanors and three years for most felonies, domestic violence cases have a five-year statute of limitations, regardless of offense. Simply put, if the victim qualifies as a domestic violence victim, they have much longer to come forward and report the alleged abuse, allowing the district attorney a longer period to file charges against the suspected perpetrator.

What Are the Defenses Against False Claims of Domestic Violence?

California has a strict stance against domestic violence and provides alleged victims immediate protection. Notably, however, allegations of domestic violence against someone are not always true. Simply put, false allegations are not uncommon.

Defenses Against False Claims of Domestic Violence

These false allegations can have negative ramifications for the accused. For example, suppose an ex-spouse falsely claims to be a domestic violence victim several years after the separation simply to seek revenge. In that case, it might result in restraining orders, leading to child custody challenges.

Alleged victims can also falsely claim to have been in an intimate relationship with you to obtain protective orders, subjecting you to immediate arrest or harsher penalties.

When this occurs, you will need a criminal defense lawyer who can use strategies to challenge the allegations or the nature of the relationship.

Perhaps they can provide evidence that the victim was not in an intimate relationship with you or that you should not be charged with domestic violence.

For further information, contact our Los Angeles domestic violence defense lawyers at The Hedding Law Firm, based in Los Angeles, CA.

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About the Author

Ronald D. Hedding

What Makes Ronald Hedding Uniquely Qualified To Represent You? I've been practicing criminal defense for almost 30 years and have handled thousands of cases, including all types of state and federal sex crime cases. All consultations are discreet and confidential.