If you're accused of domestic violence


Love blinds your eyes, marriage opens them wide.
Finnish proverb

Domestic violence accusations often come as a shock, making it hard to collect your thoughts and plan your next steps. If you did hit your partner, you probably didn't expect authorities would get involved: all couples fight, this isn't the first time, your partner hit you too, etc. And if you didn't hit your partner - nobody expects to get falsely accused of a violent crime by someone they love; it's so deeply immoral that we don't think our partner is capable of it. The reason false accusations happen is because your partner believes you're an abuser at the core and they want you punished for it, so technicalities (like whether you actually hit them or not) don't matter. From the psychological standpoint it indeed doesn't matter: if your partner feels unsatisfied with this relationship, for whatever reason, something needs to be done about it (such as marriage counseling or divorce). From the legal standpoint, however, the only thing that matters is whether you did commit a crime or your partner is lying about it. Whichever is the case, your goal in the here and now is to stop, understand what's happening, and change your approach so as to not worsen the situation. Overwhelming majority of domestic violence cases are repeat offenses: while the first charge is being processed, the person continues doing what got them in trouble in the first place, be it beating up on their partner or naively continuing to trust them instead of getting a lawyer. Below are some pointers to help prevent this from happening to you.

Follow the law

In some cultures it's seen as not a big deal to push each other (say, on the shoulder), throw things at each other, shove each other into walls when you're mad and they're standing in your way, slap each other in the face, or respond to violence with violence. And of course relationships are complex, it takes two people to create a conflict, things happen in context, you might have been provoked, etc. However, law enforcement does not care about any of that, it's not marriage counseling. The only thing they care about is whether or not you broke the law. So do not touch your partner for any reason other than expressing your love towards them (as in hugging, kissing, holding hands, cuddling, or having sex), and make sure to stop even this sort of touching the minute they ask you to. Just don't do it, no matter what happens, no matter what your partner does, sit on your hands if you have to. You're already dealing with one domestic violence charge, so this second incident will prove the first accusation true and escalate your case to a felony. It's years of prison for an outburst (especially if this is a deliberate provocation and there's a hidden camera somewhere in the room). Just walk out, it's not worth it.

Follow the law even if it makes your partner mad

The fact that you're reading this page shows that you're approaching the problem rationally, and that gives you an advantage: abuse (which false accusations are a form of) is a purely emotional response to stimuli, it's illogical and irrational. So use logic to combat this mess. It's not a crime to cheat, eat like a pig, play computer games too much, or do anything else that annoys your partner, as long as you don't raise your hand at them. They are welcome to divorce you for these things, but they don't have the authority to lock you up just because they are mad at you; it's courts that do that, and courts only care about actual crimes. You don't have to walk on eggshells; if your partner is demanding something you're not obligated to provide - just don't provide it. If they are drunk and disorderly - take the kids to your parents for the weekend, and stay there yourself too. Or call the police and have your partner removed from the house till they sober up. They will accuse you of seven deadly sins over it of course, but the law will be on your side, assuming you can prove what happened (keep reading).

Understand restraining orders

The exact terms of ROs (restraining orders, aka protective orders, orders of protection, etc) vary, but the general idea is that you're not allowed to interact with or be anywhere near your (ex)partner anymore, for a specified time or for good, or else you get arrested and charged with violating the RO. Please understand: it doesn't matter how your partner feels about it, whether they forgave you, changed their mind, called you first, or came to your place themselves. If you two are caught together, whatever the circumstances, you'll be the one in trouble, because at this point it's not up to your partner. A judge ordered you to stay away, and ignoring a judge is a crime. If your partner changed their mind and wants you back, they need to go and tell the judge about it, so that the judge will cancel the RO and you two can see each other again. Until then - don't visit, don't call, don't text, don't email, and don't return calls/emails/texts. The initial charge for violating an RO isn't very heavy on its own, but if it's not the first time, or if there are other charges relating to this whole mess, the issue could escalate to a felony. Most importantly, even just a police report without any jail time will make a big difference to your domestic violence case. Violating an RO shows that you're unable to control yourself even when ordered to by a judge, and that makes your partner's allegations sound plausible.

If you were served with an RO

If you live together, went to work as usual this morning, and were just served with an RO - you can't call/text/email your partner to ask what the heck, and you can't go back home, even if you have your ex's permission. You'll get arrested, both for coming there and for contacting your ex to ask for permission (if they texted you first, keep their text for evidence and don't respond). This might be a misunderstanding, but it won't be resolved any time soon, so find a friend with a couch or get yourself a hotel room, read your RO carefully, and consult with a lawyer. Keep a copy of the RO on you - if you're falsely accused, nothing prevents your partner from accusing you of violating the RO as well, so showing the police officers a copy of it might resolve the issue faster, saving you the handcuffs and a ride to the police station. To pick up your stuff from your ex's house (that's what it's called now, till you either reconcile or the divorce is complete and you got to keep the house) - go to your local police station and get an officer to come with you; that makes it legal for you to be there. Usually you can only do it once, so make a list of the stuff you need to get there. Forget the clean t-shirts: get your IDs, insurance papers, kids' photos, and any phone numbers, account numbers, and addresses you might need (mortgage, electricity, phone, daycare, etc).

Get rid of firearms

If you own a gun, talk to your lawyer or at least to someone at the local police station, before going to your ex's house to pick up your stuff. There's this thing called lethality assessment for domestic violence victims, and the mere fact that you own firearms or other weapons, even if they are in your ex's house (which you have no access to now), can make a big difference to how your domestic violence case will be handled. For example, whether your ex will get an extension on the RO or not, or whether you'll get a letter asking you to stop by a police station for questioning - or a SWAT team will break into your new home at 4AM without a warning. It can sound ridiculous, but put yourself in their shoes: you're an armed suspect of a violent crime, that's what's in the file. You want to get rid of your gun, it's not worth keeping it, but, since you can only go to your ex's house once and with a police officer, you need to make sure that you aren't forgetting your gun there, and are disposing of it the right way. Ask your lawyer how to go about it, and try to have the officer retrieve and carry the gun outside, rather than doing it yourself. Your ex who claims to fear for their life, you holding a gun, and an armed police officer, all in the same room - not a good combination.

Be aware of gender stereotypes and biases

If you're male, you're at a disadvantage because some people (even in law enforcement) still assume that violence works only one way, man on woman, even when it's mutual, even when it's instigated by a woman, and even when the woman is the only one perpetrating it. In 2012 Jennifer Berube, an inmate in VT, USA, sneaked up on an unsuspecting guard, and cut his throat with a knife, just missing his jugular vein. Luckily, he caught her hand and restrained her, with the help of two other guards. Despite all of the above being clearly visible on a security camera footage, Ms Berube was acquitted of all charges. The jury decided that her only intent was to escape from jail, and therefore his injuries were just an unintentional byproduct of her escape attempt. It's unfair, but unfortunately does happen, so it helps to be aware of the societal bias: you'll have to prove yourself innocent when it's her word against yours. "We argued" translates into "he verbally assaulted me", "she was drunk and passed out" translates into "he must have choked me because I lost consciousness", "she threw a toaster at me so I raised my hand to protect my face" translates into "I feared for my life because he threatened me by holding his fist above his head". If you don't have proof of what happened, she'll be receiving everyone's sympathy as an abuse victim, and you'll be needing a good lawyer. She'll probably be seen as an abuse victim by some people even if you have absolute proof that you did nothing wrong, but at least you'll be less likely to end up in prison.

Document everything

Keep a journal. Talk to friends and family. Record audio and video of any arguments you two are having. Take pictures of any property damages. Go to the ER if you're injured, have the doctors record it in your chart. Call the police each time there's a disturbance. Do not yell back at your partner, call the police. If you yell back, they'll call the police themselves and say that you're the only one yelling and it scares them. Don't be naive: your partner is building up their case, and any argument, any misunderstanding, any slip-up - it all gets recorded and can and will be used against you. It happens all the time: a couple fights, there's a domestic disturbance report, they reconcile and live happily for months, and then they split up and one of them digs up that old domestic disturbance report and presses charges (to get alimony, custody of children, or just out of spite). So, if your partner is drunk, you two are arguing, and they pass out - do call an ambulance. First, there's nothing wrong with making sure they're OK, it's natural to worry about your loved one. And second, have the docs record their blood alcohol levels. Have yours recorded too, say that you're feeling dizzy. Have it on record that you were sober, your partner was drunk, and the kids were scared.

Consider divorce if you're innocent

You probably don't view yourself as a victim of emotional abuse, and that's cool, but the reason people stay with someone who falsely accuses them of crimes is the same reason they stay with someone who abuses them. They believe it's a misunderstanding, a temporary problem, my partner loves me, they just had a tough life and struggle with anger management, I want to help them, we can work through this, relationships take effort, I can't leave the kids, etc. Problem is - this relationship is, unfortunately, past that point. You're risking prison time, and, whether you get convicted or not, your reputation and career are permanently damaged. All because your partner was mad about something. Give up this unrealistic hope that you two will work it out: your partner isn't interested in working anything out, false felony accusations are not how decent people handle conflicts/resentments. You've got to draw the line somewhere, otherwise they'll keep threatening to accuse you of crimes each time they are mad at you, playing on your fear of going through this ordeal again, which is essentially a form of blackmail. Or they will just keep filing false reports; they have no reason to change their approach, they are getting exactly what they want. Sooner or later they'll get you locked up, deliberately or accidentally, because they can't always withdraw the charges, if they go too far it will be out of their hands.

Consider divorce if you're guilty

I'm truly sorry, but this relationship probably can't be salvaged. It's not that you're this monster who screwed it all up and is unfit for relationships. It's possible that this whole mess served as a wake-up call for you, and you might follow through with your plan to change your approach to relationships, and will eventually build a happy, healthy, fulfilling marriage - with someone else. Physical violence (even as an isolated incident) doesn't happen in a vacuum, it's a symptom of the bigger problem. Both you and your partner have very unhealthy boundaries: you keep violating them (physically or not), thus reinforcing their belief that they don't deserve any better, and they keep staying with you and tolerating it, thus reinforcing your belief that treating your partner this way is OK. This, unfortunately, didn't develop overnight, and won't pass overnight either. Of course life goes on, and people date, even marry, while continuing to work on their issues. However, for a relationship to have a chance, at least one of the partners needs to have OK boundaries. Otherwise it's a catch 22, you're keeping each other trapped in the same dysfunctional pattern, zeroing out any progress you make in therapy. Best case scenario the physical violence will stop, you two will reconcile, stay together without any major complaints (because neither of you notice problems till they explode), but 10-20 years down the road one (or both) of you will be quite likely to attempt suicide. A more realistic scenario is that the violence will continue and escalate, till you either break up or one of you kills the other (check the stats on DV-related homicides in seniors, you'll be surprised). If you genuinely want to do the right thing - have the strength to break this cycle. You can stay in touch (especially if there are kids), invite each other for Thanksgiving, etc, but you need to let go of each other, get yourselves into therapy, and eventually find yourselves different partners, with whom the relationship dynamics will hopefully be different.

Think of the kids

While you two are busy sorting through your marital problems, breaking up, reconciling, fighting each other in court - your kids are growing. Between work and chores and seeing lawyers, time flies, and there really isn't much of it left till your kid gets covered in zits and becomes more interested in their peers than in you. Take your kid to a zoo. Check their homework. Schedule their dental appointment. If you divorce and start a custody battle, being a good parent will count in your favor. If you reconcile and live happily ever after - be a good parent anyway, let your kids save on therapy bills when they grow up. Parental divorce can be traumatic to children, and they see, hear, and understand a lot more than you might think. My parents divorced when I was a child - I don't know when exactly, they somehow forgot to update me on the news. I vividly remember their fights, mom prepping me for the court, that I should say I hate my dad, and that terrible night when dad raped mom - they thought I was asleep in my room, but I heard his breathing and cursing, and her crying, during and after. However, at some point in the middle of all this mess, mom took me on a 4-day trip abroad (not far and not particularly expensive). We stayed at an Amish bed and breakfast, went to a few museums, and had yogurt parfaits with tiny pretzels at a local cafe. And dad took me to his office a lot. I explored his desk drawers, made friends with his secretary, and learned how to make origami paper cranes. These things didn't erase the impact of their divorce, but I'm grateful to both of my parents for the good memories I have of that time, to tip the balance a little.