What Are Domestic Violence Laws, And How Can They Benefit Survivors?

Medically reviewed by April Justice, LICSW
Updated May 14, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that include suicide, substance use, or abuse which could be triggering to the reader.
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Note: This article is not a replacement for legal advice. To understand how the laws against domestic violence apply to you and your relationship, reach out to a legal representative like an attorney for further guidance. 

One in four women and one in five men experience severe domestic violence from a partner each year. Domestic violence has been a common occurrence. For this reason, laws have been put in place to protect survivors. When you are a survivor of domestic violence, it can feel like someone else has taken your self-control away. You may not know about the laws in place to protect you. Understanding these laws could benefit you in protecting yourself and your family.
Domestic abuse recovery takes time

Understanding domestic violence: It’s not your fault

Whether you’re experiencing physical, emotional, mental, financial, or spiritual abuse, you’re not alone; the abuse is not your fault. It can be confusing to understand that someone you love or trust continues to harm you. Knowing that abuse isn’t your fault isn’t necessarily a betrayal of your love or care for your partner. 

No matter your gender, race, sexuality, ethnicity, class, or background, you’re not at fault for the abuse you’re experiencing. Laws against domestic violence exist for various forms of abuse and may be able to protect you as you cope with these experiences. If you’re worried that bringing these concerns to lawmakers would worsen the abuse, your fears are valid. However, there may be systems in your community to help you escape abuse without your abuser knowing where you are or what you’re doing.

Federal domestic violence laws

Congress passed an act known as the Violence Against Women Act in 1994. Violence against women is a national crime punishable by law, with different consequences based on your state. 

Depending on the situation, the person accused of domestic violence may face incarceration. Some individuals may face fines, be tasked with community service, or be made to attend anger management courses. Others may have their parental rights terminated. A judge may determine the sentence by how severe the domestic violence charges are and the history of violence in the relationship. The penalties for domestic violence can differ from state to state, but federal laws are consistent.

If you are a woman survivor of domestic abuse, the person who has abused you has committed a crime. You have rights in this case, and you may consider reaching out to the court or talking to a law enforcement officer about your next steps. If you’re living in a domestic violence shelter, the shelter staff may be able to help you start the process.

Note that men may not be protected under the law as survivors of domestic violence, which some states are trying to change. For example, under Colorado law, men have the same rights as women in a domestic violence case. To understand your state’s laws, talk to an attorney. In addition, domestic violence laws only apply to physical violence. A history of primarily emotional or verbal abuse may not count toward these protections. However, there are still resources in place for those fleeing emotional violence. 

Domestic violence gun laws

Previously, individuals with domestic violence charges were prohibited from buying guns federally. However, the Supreme Court overturned this law in 2022, stating it was unconstitutional to the second amendment. This overturning may prove dangerous to survivors of domestic violence, so reaching out to protective resources can be essential to protect yourself. 


How to enact your rights as a survivor

If you are in a physically violent relationship, call the Domestic Violence Hotline. You can find local options for immediately escaping your situation through their resource line. However, contact the authorities if you are in a crisis or physical danger. They can help physically remove yourself from the situation and may offer guidance into prosecution or legal impacts for the individual abusing you. 

Note that stalking is also a form of violence against the law. Write down every instance of unwanted contact or stalking, take screenshots and photos, and document proof that this is occurring. Bring the proof with you to court and file a restraining order. You can also file charges against this individual, potentially resulting in jail time or fines for them. Multiple charges of stalking can result in long-term jail time. However, talk to a lawyer to understand your rights further in your state. 

Violence against children and the elderly also falls under the banner of domestic violence. If you have a spouse or partner who is abusive to your children, you have grounds to report these behaviors to the authorities. Your children rely on you to keep them safe, so deciding to get help can protect you and your family. 

Legal resources available to survivors

Each state has unique laws and regulations in place to protect survivors. A few of these protections include the following: 

  • Child custody laws for survivors of abuse
  • Restraining orders for survivors of stalking or abuse
  • Child support for survivors of abuse with children
  • Parental kidnapping fines and jail time for abusers
  • Domestic violence shelters for women and children 

To learn more about these resources, call the Domestic Violence Hotline at the top of this article. 

Domestic abuse recovery takes time

Seeking professional support 

After escaping domestic violence or an abusive relationship, you may benefit from talking to a professional about your situation and the effects it has had on you. Many people develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after abuse, so attending therapy may help you understand these new symptoms and how they manifest for you. 

After escaping abuse or while living with it, you might feel anxious about attending therapy in person. In these cases, you may feel that support isn’t possible. However, online therapy platforms like BetterHelp open up the option for therapy from home or any location with an internet connection. Your counselor can connect you with resources to call or contact, worksheets, and coping mechanisms you can use to stay mentally healthy. 

If you’re unsure about the effectiveness of online therapy, know that studies back up this format. One study found that online therapy was highly effective for survivors of abuse and domestic violence. Survivors reported a higher quality of life and reduced anxiety and depression after treatment. 


Domestic violence laws offer some protection to people who have experienced physical violence. However, they may still be improved with time. If you’re experiencing domestic violence, reaching out to a hotline or attorney for support can help you move forward and protect yourself and your family. You can also consider contacting a therapist online or in your area for further therapeutic guidance.
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