Frequently Asked Questions

About Domestic Violence

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Getting Help

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Cause and Prevalence

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Domestic Violence and the Law

About the New York State Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence (OPDV)

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Getting Involved

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About Domestic Violence

Q. What is domestic violence?

A. Domestic violence is a pattern of coercive tactics, which can include physical, psychological, sexual, economic and emotional abuse, perpetrated by one person against an adult intimate partner, with the goal of establishing and maintaining power and control over the victim.

Domestic violence is also called domestic abuse, intimate partner violence, or dating violence. It may include sexual assault. People most often people think of domestic violence as physical abuse, but that’s only part of the picture. Many victims are never physically or sexually assaulted but are controlled and terrorized by their partners’ use of non-physical tactics such as: verbal, emotional/psychological abuse; coercion and threats; isolation; minimizing, denying, blaming; using children; intimidation; and economic abuse.

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Q. Who are the victims of domestic violence?

A. Victims can be from any socio-economic group, education level, gender or ethnicity. They can be teens or they can be elderly. Domestic violence doesn’t discriminate. The majority (85%) of victims are female who are abused by male partners 1 . And while victims can be from any walk of life, research shows that racial and ethnic minority women and men continue to bear a relatively heavier burden of sexual violence, stalking, and domestic violence 2 .

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Q. Can men be victims of domestic violence?

A. Yes. While some male victims of domestic violence are abused by female partners, the overwhelming majority of male victims are abused by other men. Learn more from the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence’s handout, Male Victims of Violence.

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Q. Who are the abusers?

A. As with victims, abusers can come from any walk of life – rich, poor, young, or old, and any gender, background or ethnicity. Read Understanding Domestic Abusers on OPDV’s website.

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Q. Is there any way to tell that someone will be abusive in their relationship? 

A. Abusers don’t announce their behavior at the start of a relationship; things would never progress beyond the first date! But there are some common traits shared by many abusers. They may be charming, jealous, controlling, and manipulative and they may blame others for their problems. They may rush into a relationship (“sweep you off your feet” or proclaim “love at first sight”) and insist that you spend all your time with them. These are “red flags,” but there are often no signs at all.

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Q. Is it true that boys who witness domestic violence at home grow up to be abusers and girls who witness it grow up to become victims who seek abusive partners?

A. Not necessarily. One study showed that boys who witness domestic violence are twice as likely to abuse their own partners and children when they become adults. But it’s not a guarantee. There are boys who are abusive as adults but never witnessed it in the home, and others who witnessed it in the home but decided they were not going to repeat that behavior. Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and protective or resiliency factors all influence beliefs and behaviors as do other factors such as peers, the media, and social norms. Regarding victims, there is no reliable research that shows that girls who witness violence in the home seek out abusive partners as adults, but it is possible they may stay in a relationship with an abusive partner longer than someone who was not a child witness.

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Q. Aren’t there are as many female perpetrators of domestic violence as there are male? 

A. No. Some studies show that women are as violent as men, or that they initiate violence as much as men do. However, these studies don’t take into account the intensity of the violence, the severity of the injuries or the impact on the victim. It’s important to understand the distinctions between domestic abuse (coercive controlling violence), responsive violence, and fights (situational couple violence). For more information, see OPDV’s Gender and Intimate Partner Violence.

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Q. Is child abuse domestic violence?

A. No. While abuse of a child by a family member is “domestic” by definition, when we talk about “domestic violence,” we are generally referring to certain crimes committed by one intimate partner (current or former spouse or dating partner, regardless of age or gender) against another. That said, there is strong link between domestic violence and child abuse.  Many people who abuse their partners also abuse children in the household. And witnessing domestic violence can have many lasting negative effects on children. For more about the effects of domestic violence on children, see “What About Your Children?” on page 28 of Finding Safety & Support.

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Q. What about elder abuse?

A. Elder abuse, the mistreatment of older adults, can also be “domestic” by definition when it includes abusive acts by a family member, such as an adult child. But older adults also experience domestic violence as we define it. In reported abuse cases of older adults in New York State, the abuser was a spouse or partner 26% of the time.3 Intimate Partner Abuse of Older Adults.

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Q. Is there a link between domestic violence and animal/pet abuse?

A. Yes. Domestic violence perpetrators often abuse others in the home in an effort to gain power and control in all of their relationships. Committing violence against animals is one way that abusers threaten and punish victims and children who love their pets and rely on them for security and comfort. Many victims feel they can’t leave the situation because they are afraid to leave a pet behind and most shelters are not equipped to house pets. Abusers know this and use it to their advantage. Finally, it is not uncommon for abusers to train animals to attack victims and children, so that the animal is used as a weapon to further the abuse. See OPDV’s Information Guide: Animal Cruelty and Domestic Violence .

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Getting Help

Q. Why don’t victims leave at the first sign of abuse? Why do they feel trapped?

A. There are many reasons a victim of domestic violence may stay in the relationship for some time. The abuser may have threatened to hurt the victim, the children, pets or themselves if the victim leaves. Domestic violence victims often feel like the abuse is their problem and their fault, and that they are responsible for fixing the relationship. They may not realize they’re being abused if the abuse isn’t physical (and even if it is). They may be embarrassed or ashamed by what has happened to them. They may feel that they can’t break their wedding vows or they might feel restricted by community or religious expectations. The victim may still love the abuser; they just want the abuse to stop. (And the abuser may promise it’ll never happen again.) They may have limited financial resources and/or social supports to assist them with the expense and the logistics of starting over. They may be reluctant to create upheaval in their children’s lives. Victims may be afraid that the abuser will fight for sole custody of their children.  Often, victims’ fears are based on direct threats made by the abuser. And victims might be afraid to leave because abuse can get much worse after a victim leaves, when the abuser realizes they are losing control. Abusers often stalk their victims post-separation. Many domestic homicides take place during or after a victim has left the relationship.

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Q. What help is available for victims of domestic violence?

A. The NYS Domestic and Sexual Violence Hotline, 1-800-942-6906, is a resource for victims, family members, friends and others. The Hotline operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It is a multi-language confidential hotline. Trained counselors provide a variety of services including crisis intervention, supportive counseling, and information and referral services. Additional resources available in most communities may include: local domestic violence program, police, probation, Family Court, local civil legal services, local Department of Social Services (includes Child Protective Services, Adult Protective Services), NYS Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, and local Victim Assistance Programs.

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Q. What does a domestic violence program do?

A. Domestic violence programs offer 24-hour hotlines, confidential counseling and emergency housing (shelter) for domestic violence victims and their children. You don’t have to stay in a domestic violence shelter to get help. Programs may also offer support groups, services for children and many other services that can help victims.

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Q. Are there resources for male victims of domestic violence?

A. Yes. In New York State all licensed and approved programs follow a set of regulations that are gender-neutral. Sometimes programs will make provisions for men and others for whom sheltering in their facility might not be desirable. In these cases, vouchers for a hotel are often provided.

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Q. Is help available for abusers who want to stop? Can abusers change?

A. Changing one’s beliefs and behaviors is possible but it’s not quick or easy to do. Unless abusers take full responsibility for their behaviors, they are unlikely to change. For details, see OPDV’s “What About Help for Your Abusive Partner?” on page 30 of Finding Safety & Support and the National Domestic Violence Hotline’s Is Change Possible In An Abuser?

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Cause and Prevalence

Q. What are the statistics?
A.
  • 1 in 4 women will experience domestic violence in their lifetime. 4
  • Intimate partner violence affects more than 12 million people each year. 5
  • Approximately 1 in 4 women and nearly 1 in 7 men in the U.S. have experienced severe physical violence by an intimate partner at some point in their lifetime. 6
  • Among victims of rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner, approximately 6 out of 10 women and 1 in 6 men reported being concerned for their safety because of the violence in that relationship. 7
  • 1 in 6 women and 1 in 19 men in the U.S. have experienced stalking at some point in their lives in which they felt very fearful or believed that they or someone close to them would be harmed or killed. 8
  • Almost 300,000 domestic violence and sexual assault hotline calls were received in New York State in 2013. 9
  • New York State courts issued 300,000 orders of protection in 2013. 10
  • Domestic violence is one of the most chronically underreported crimes. 11

For more statistics, see this fact sheet from the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

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Q. What causes domestic violence?

A. Domestic violence is caused by one person’s choice to control another person in a relationship.  It is not caused by drugs or alcohol (although these things can make abuse worse) or by anything the victim did to “provoke” the abuser. Abuse is not caused by a bad day, or “buttons that got pushed.” It’s not a “two-way street” or a “lover’s quarrel” and it doesn’t “take two to tango.” Abuse is always a choice. And it’s never the victim’s fault.

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Q. Is the economy causing more domestic violence?

A. A bad economy or personal financial struggles will not cause someone to be abusive. However, in homes where one partner is already abusive, strained finances and unemployment can make domestic violence worse. For more information, please refer to the National Network to End Domestic Violence’s handout, The Impact of the Economy on Domestic Violence .

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Domestic Violence and the Law

Q. If I see or hear people fighting something, should I call the police?

A. If you think someone is in immediate danger, yes. Otherwise, the answer is a little complicated. In general, a swift law enforcement response can be one of the most effective ways of dealing with domestic violence. But there may be situations in which an officer arriving on the scene could cause more problems for the victim. If possible, find out what the victim would prefer. They are usually the best judge of their own situation. And trust your instincts. Bystander intervention can mean the difference between life and death. 

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Q. Is there a crime called “domestic violence” in New York State? 

A. New York State does not have a crime named “domestic violence.” If the abuser commits any crime against you, they could be arrested and prosecuted in criminal court. New York also has “family offenses” which are certain crimes committed by one family member or intimate partner (current or former spouse or dating partner, regardless of age or gender) against another. The victim of a family offense can seek help in Family Court in addition to, or instead of, the case being prosecuted in criminal court.

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Q. What good is an Order of Protection?

A. An Order of Protection (OP) is also commonly (but incorrectly) called a Restraining Order. It is an order of the Court, and being served an OP is often enough to persuade the abuser to stop their abusive behavior. If they violate the OP, the violation itself is a crime and the criminal justice system can take further action. It’s true an OP “won’t stop a bullet,” but it can be a very powerful tool for holding offenders accountable. OPDV offers a thorough explanation in Finding Safety & Support called “What is an Order of Protection and Where Can You Get One?” on page 43.

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About the New York State Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence (OPDV)

Q. What does OPDV do?

A. ODPV’s main purposes are advising the Governor on legislation, training professionals in systems whose work intersects with domestic violence, and promoting awareness of the issue. Learn more about OPDV . OPDV is not a direct service agency. For immediate help contact the NYS Domestic and Sexual Hotline at 1-800-942-6906. OPDV is able to assist in resolving certain issues.  We can be reached at 518-457-5800.

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Getting Involved

Q. What do I do if someone I know is being abused?

A. Let the person know you’re there for them. Believe what they tell you, without blame or judgment. Ask them how you can help, being sure to keep your own safety in mind. Give them the phone number of the local domestic violence program or the NYS Domestic & Sexual Violence Hotline (1-800-942-6906). Calling is anonymous and confidential and doesn’t mean they have to take any immediate action. For more information, see the “Friends, Family, Co-Workers and Bystanders” chapter of Finding Safety & Support, starting on page 58.

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Q. What if I know the abuser?

A. It is important to consider your own safety any time you are dealing with an abuser. One option is to call the police. Another is to talk to the abuser about your concerns. Make sure they know the consequences for being abusive, including being arrested, losing their partner and family, losing support from friends, losing their job or having their guns taken away. For more, see “What You Can Do If You Know the Abuser” in Finding Safety & Support on page 62.

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Q. What can someone do to help with the overall problem of domestic violence?

A. There are many ways someone can help make a difference. Here are some suggestions: 

  • Learn about domestic violence and share your knowledge with others.
  • Speak up about it – make sure everyone knows domestic violence will not be tolerated. For example, when you hear someone making a joke about domestic violence, tell them it’s not funny. 
  • Identify resources and service providers in your community.  Make that information widely available to all members of the community.
  • If you are an employer, create and implement a domestic violence and the workplace policy. Similar to the policies you may already have, like time and attendance and health and safety, this policy helps guide your response if and when domestic violence impacts your workplace .
  • Model respectful behavior and healthy relationships. Men can show by example that being strong does not mean being violent. Confront gender stereotypes.
  • Order copies of the booklet Finding Safety and Support from OPDV and bring them to your local library and other public places.
  • Shine the Light on Domestic Violence ” by wearing purple, the awareness color for domestic violence, in October, Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
  • Don’t support businesses, products, services or organizations that promote violence or abusive behavior.
  • Understand the power of language. Seek to eradicate the following from your conversations and don’t tolerate it in media reports about domestic violence: victim-blaming, making excuses for abusers’ behaviors, and sensationalizing domestic violence.
  • Support your local domestic violence program. Individuals and businesses can make charitable contributions. Businesses, faith organizations and civic groups can offer space for meetings. If you have a unique service to offer, see if you can fulfill a need of your local domestic violence program or victims in your community.

Above all, Don’t Do Nothing!

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  1. Bureau of Justice Statistics Crime Data Brief, Intimate Partner Violence, 1993-2001, February 2003.
  2. Center for Disease Control. National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, 2010
  3. Mason, Art. Under the Radar, New York State Elder Abuse Prevalence Study , 2011, pg. 44.
  4. Tjaden, Patricia and Thoennes, Nancy. National Institute of Justice and the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, “ Extent, Nature, and Consequences of Intimate Partner Violence .” 2000
  5. Center for Disease Control, National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey: An Overview of 2010 Summary Report Findings .
  6. Center for Disease Control. National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey , 2010.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Available from New York State Domestic Violence Dashboard Project 2013 Data, accessed August 2014.
  10. Ibid.
  11. U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, “Criminal Victimization,” 2003.

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