As I’ve blogged about recently, one very sad and troubling side-effect of the COVID-19 crisis, has been an increase in domestic violence. As a Massachusetts domestic violence lawyer, I’ve seen this spike correlate with COVID-19. It comes as no surprise: People are under enormous psychological and financial pressure. Kids are stuck at home, doubtless escalating those demands and pressure. Even without kids to care for, couples feeling the prolonged stress can act it out in ways they would not have foreseen. People are human. And as I’ve said before, throw alcohol into the equation, and things can get out of control very, very quickly. I’m posting this so that my readers can get a better idea of what constitutes “domestic violence” in Massachusetts, and what resources people can turn to if they feel it affects them, either as a victim or as someone who has been accused or arrested for this offense.
“Abuse” can be a wide-ranging term, but generally:
- Physical abuse obviously includes hitting, punching, slapping, kicking, or attempting to strangle someone. In what might surprise some people, it can also include driving very recklessly for the purpose of intimidating a spouse, partner or family member.
- Sexual abuse includes rape or other forced sexual acts, or using sex as a kind of “weapon”.
- Verbal abuse includes accusing and blaming, name calling, threatening to cause harm, yelling or screaming, or calling a partner or family member “crazy” or “stupid”.
- Mental/Psychological Abuse includes insults, controlling behavior, or isolation from others. It makes a person feel like they are walking on eggshells with another person. It includes humiliating you, or threatening self-harm if you don’t “cooperate” or agree with that person.
- Financial Abuse includes withholding needed money, controlling your bank accounts, not allowing you to take a job or work, or somehow making it too difficult to work.
Domestic assault and domestic violence is a crime in Massachusetts – but not everyone who is arrested or accused of this offense is violent, or truly a “criminal”, in the visceral sense of the word. Trust me, I can assure you as a Massachusetts domestic violence attorney that has seen hundreds of these cases: Many times, an argument just got out of hand. But once the police show up, everything changes. Almost all Massachusetts police departments have a zero-tolerance policy about this offense, and an arrest of at least one of the parties is almost guaranteed. Obviously, the person who isn’t arrested is called the “victim”, and victims of Massachusetts domestic violence are able to request and receive a restraining order at any time, including nights, weekends, and holidays.
In order to obtain a restraining order, a person does not require a lawyer or even a police report. This next part is important to understand: In Massachusetts, a restraining order is technically called an “Abuse Prevention Order”, and if one is issued, it is a civil order against another person, to prevent physical or psychological harm from an intimate partner, family or household member. However, once such an Order is issued against a defendant, any – and I mean any – violation of that Order’s terms immediately becomes a criminal matter, and the defendant will be arrested. While the parties to such orders are often married, that is not a requirement in order for a complainant to receive one. Abuse Prevention Orders can be obtained against anyone who is in a dating relationship, or within any of the following categories:
- A spouse or an ex-spouse
- A gay or lesbian partner
- A member of the household the complainant is living with
- A person related by blood or marriage
- Either parent of a minor child
There a number of places to call for support and/or help for women, men (yes, some men are victims of domestic abuse, whether by women or same-sex partners) and children in Massachusetts:
- Your city/town Police Department – call 911 if you feel physically or emotionally unsafe
- Domestic Shelters – Massachusetts: https://www.domesticshelters.org/help/ma
- Department of Children and Families: 800-792-5200
- SafeLink: 877-785-2020
During COVID-19 or until at least June 1 2020, courts in Massachusetts are closed to “normal” business — but they remain operational for emergencies. Victims can call their local District Court or police department, and arrangements will be made to either have you into the court for an emergency hearing, or it will be conducted by phone. Either way, victims will be attended to immediately.
Alternatively, if an argument or conflict has gotten out of hand and you’re the one arrested, or if your partner or family member has been arrested and you did not want that to happen, but the police would not listen to you, feel free to call our office at either Ph.: (781) 320-0062 or Ph.: (617) 285-3600, or send us a contact form.
If someone is indeed being abused and needs protection from an abuser, they can and should get it, rapidly. But if an argument simply got out of hand and is not typical, that’s another story. As I said above, people are human and arguments can happen. Notwithstanding, that doesn’t make the incident a “minor” matter to the District Attorney’s office prosecuting the case, and it doesn’t make it “minor” to the judge, either. In that event, a talented Massachusetts domestic violence attorney is needed.
If you have any questions about this important subject, feel free to call us. We’ll speak with you without charge.