If you know that you need to file or answer a restraining order for stalking or domestic violence, feel free to call immediately. I do have experience with litigating these, primarily on a volunteer basis, but can of course be employed on a paid basis for them as well. I wrote the information below primarily as information for victims of intimate partner violence, but you may also need support in cases of stalking or other abuse that does not involve an intimate partner. Call for more information, but to read more about intimate partner violence, continue below.
When it comes to restraining orders, 90% of the battle is coming to the determination that you need one. Most victims believe that they are actually the ones in control of the relationship and that they are helping their abuser get better. As an example, watch Leslie Morgan Steiner’s TED Talk, “Why Domestic Violence Victims Don’t Leave.”
There are reasons victims may stay for years in an abusive relationship. Victims may fear loss of financial support, greater violence, violence to their children, threats of deportation, fear of judgment from family members for not handing a “private matter” in private, the list goes on.
Who tends to be a victim of intimate partner violence?
Smart and independent women. The “smart and independent” part might sound surprising, but they are the easiest victims for abusers–they don’t think it can happen to them, a belief abusers rely on. Thus, smart and independent victims don’t leave abusive relationships because they wrongly believe they are in control. Victims are usually women in opposite-sex relationships, but this is not always true.
Abuse also happens between friends and between partners in same-sex relationships.
Abuse is common–somewhere between one third and one sixth of women find themselves in abusive relationships at some point.
What should I do if someone I know is in an abusive relationship?
1. Tell them they are in an abusive relationship. This sounds obvious, but many victims, once in an abusive relationship, stop seeing the abuse. They may also have not acted out of fear that no one would believe them.
2. Call police to report episodes of violence. Most people do not call the police when they overhear violent episodes from the neighbors. Sometimes people do not call because they suspect the police will not act, or the victim will deny that any abuse occurred. But police reports are often a vital part of the record when a victim later pursues a protective order. In my own cases, 911 calls from the neighbors, even though they seemed to fix little at the time, were later extremely helpful in securing a restraining order and financial support for the victims. When that day finally comes, the victim may have no other evidence that abuse occurred after years of hiding it from family and friends. Judges know full well the significance of numerous 911 calls, even when victims told the police that nothing happened.
3. Offer specific help. A place to stay, transportation to a lawyer’s office to file, money, and babysitting are all very important. Do not assume that because the victim appears to have money or a car that they actually have consistent access to those luxuries. Abusers frequently monitor or control the spending and driving of their victims. Just because they are upper or middle class does not mean they wouldn’t need money for food if they left tomorrow.
4. Remember that there are many reasons this person is staying in the relationship, and it may be helpful to think that you are providing just a few of the many reasons that will one day push them to get out. Just because your one action does not pull them out does not mean it’s not part of a larger cumulative effect that will bring them out of the relationship much later.
What should I do if I’m in an abusive relationship?
Safety Plan: Recognize the high-risk factors that mean you need a shelter and a safety plan
Evaluate the level of danger. Does the abuser own guns? Have they shifted from vague threats to more specific threats (e.g. “I’m going to kill you” morphs into “I’m going to shoot you”)? Are you pregnant? Is the abuser highly controlling (restricting access to friends or a vehicle, demanding frequent reports on location)? Has the abuser ever brandished or displayed a gun during abusive episodes (like pointing it at you or holding the gun during arguments)?
These factors, particularly those involving guns, mean that you are at high risk of homicide, and leaving the abuser should include a safety plan that involves professionals like those at a domestic violence shelter. Both judges and shelters are typically trained to recognize these factors. Shelters will prioritize these victims and will focus their resources on securing transportation, food, money, and legal assistance for these victims, no matter their apparent financial stature. In short, if your abuser has referenced or brandished a gun during an argument, contact a shelter, no matter who you are.
A much more scientific discussion of risk factors is available here.
Lawyers and Georgia Temporary Protective Orders: Know what they can do, and how quickly
In Georgia, the temporary protective order operates with extreme speed. You can have an abuser removed from your home for thirty days on the day you decide to get protection–a judge can also order financial support and custody of your children during that period. You do not have to face your abuser on the day that you ask for this thirty day order.
It is NOT the same as calling 911 to have the police come to your home. Many victims avoid this because they fear that if their abuser is not arrested on that same day, then the abuser will be angered and have the ability to return. They also worry about what will happen if they are unable to convince the police.
When seeking a TPO in Georgia, you sit in front of a judge, in private, without the abuser present, and the judge orders then and there whether you will be granted a thirty day protective order, without the presence of the abuser. The abuser is then given the order by the police, and banned from coming within a football field’s length of you or contacting you for thirty days. After that period, you both appear at court with lawyers, and your lawyer will argue that the protection should continue for one year.
Remember, the court can order that you be given use of the home as well as child support, so do not allow abusers to control you with threats that if you exit the relationship, you will be left homeless and without your children.
More than once, I’ve had a lawyer on the opposing side tell me, “well obviously, [the husband] should get custody, because he’s the one with the home and the income,” to which I’ve responded, “well I’m going to take both the house and the money, so I hope you have a better reason than that.” I mention this because it shows just what kind of footholds abusers will use to maintain control, and that lawyers will pretend these have meaning despite Georgia’s laws.
What do I do if my relationship is abusive, but the abuser is not physically violent, or if my relationship is bad, but just not “that bad”?
Is the person isolating you, emotionally abusing you, stalking you, or somehow just making you feel like you’re always walking on eggshells? Most victims are probably wrong when they assert that their abusive relationship is not “that bad,” or enough to warrant outside help, but nonetheless, it’s better to have an outside perspective. Which you can get, for free! Call me, or call one of the many services available to counsel you.
There are many cases where an abusive relationship is not enough for a standard restraining order. Even in those cases, a lawyer can help you demand a stop to communication, which can set up a stalking order if the abuser keeps bothering you.
Very frequently, a relationship is not violent, but has all the classic signs that it’s heading in that direction. Victims may have a “walking on eggshells” feeling for years before anything physically violent happens. What begins as a casual “where were you today?” can become more accusatory over a thousand days, in a thousand slightly darker shades. Abusers do not immediately isolate their victims, but take small, sometimes apparently benign steps to do it over a long period of time.
You owe the next ten years of your life, and the possibility of having children with someone, to ask a professional if the not-so-good signs of your relationship are signs of something far worse.
Don’t wait too long to seek a restraining order
If the most recent incident of physical violence was two days ago, a judge is more likely to grant protection than if it was six months. Don’t wait for everything else to fall into place–a lawyer, shelter, or intimate violence charity can help with many of the issues that cause victims to put off getting help.
Think twice before seeking help from certain not-so-helpful entities
You might consider calling on your university, your church or religious organization, your boss, or others with the purpose of stopping the abuse. CALL A LAWYER before considering any of these–they have all angered me with their handling of intimate partner violence. Universities, churches, workplaces, schools, and other organizations take pride in handling things “in-house,” but they put their own interests first. They also attempt to intervene in situations they do not have the capacity, training, or power to fix. Universities do not put rapists in jail or prevent them from raping others. Churches cannot order child custody. Workplaces can’t put a 100 foot yard border around you and arrest those who cross it.
Even if you choose to bring in the disciplinary process of your school or workplace, a lawyer’s presence can help prevent (usually through sheer intimidation) those entities from retaliatory action against you for complaining.
Note that I am not referring to the DHS certified shelters operated by religious organizations; you shouldn’t hesitate to use any of those, and they will help you no matter what religion you are.
I can’t afford a lawyer…
If you cannot afford a lawyer, Georgia has many services for low-income persons to get legal support-shelters generally help find one on your behalf. They will also help you if you are financially well-off but your abuser controls or monitors your spending.
If you have some money, or someone has offered to help pay for legal support, Rowland Legal has a sliding scale for these clients and can discount rates up to 80% depending on availability (we do not take on more than one domestic violence case at any given time). Contact us if you want to speak with us directly or want help with a referral. At present, those completely unable to pay should be able to obtain lawyers through AVLF, Georgia Legal Aid, Project Safe, the Center for Pan Asian Community Services, the UGA Domestic Violence Clinic, or through one of the many charities offering this kind of support.
Being in control sometimes means getting help from someone else.
Closest shelter in Georgia: 1-800-33-HAVEN (1.800.334.2836): This phone number automatically routes to the closest available shelter.
Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers Foundation
Atlanta Legal Aid: (404) 524-5811: That’s the general number for the Fulton office, but their web site has the numbers for other counties.
Project Safe: (706) 543-3331: Athens based.
Center for Pan Asian Community Services: (770) 936-0969: This is the general phone line for the charity. It’s Atlanta based and provides Asian-focused shelters along with many other services.
The 800-334-2836 number is the main 24-hour line.