Domestic Violence: It Isn’t Just Physical (Part 1)
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domestic violence, not just physical, part 2

In the United States, October is the National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. As part of our own mission to help families in crisis, the Law Office of Erika A. Williams is publishing this 4-part series on domestic violence to shed light on all forms of domestic violence; the ways that it shows up in families’ lives; and, what you can do to keep yourself, your family, and your loved ones safe.

In the last post, we talked about the incidence of domestic violence in the United States.  For this second part of the series, I really wanted to give you some of the laws covering domestic violence. Any case that is filed related to domestic violence must, first, be rooted in the law. The law defines what domestic violence is and what both the punishment is for the perpetrator and the remedy is for the victim.

What Is Domestic Violence, Really?:

Domestic violence is a broad term that encompasses intimate partner violence (IPV), elder abuse, and, child abuse.

  • Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) – usually occurs between current or former intimate partners and includes stalking, psychological abuse, sexual harm, and physical violence.
  • Elder Abuse – involves negligent or intentional acts that cause harm to a person who is 65 years old or older.
  • Child Abuse – includes neglect, physical harm, sexual violence, and emotional harm to a person who is under the age of 18.

What Does the Law Say Domestic Violence Is?:

In California, domestic violence is described in both the penal code and the family code. The penal code provides criminal penalties for the conduct described; while the family code provides for civil penalties and relief.Distinctions Between Criminal Law and Civil Law

Criminal Code

In California, domestic violence, depending on the nature of the act and the seriousness of the resultant injuries, can be either a misdemeanor or a felony. For that reason, domestic violence appears in separate sections.

California Penal Code (PC) § 243 (e)(1) provides:

“When a battery is committed against a spouse, a person with whom the defendant is cohabiting, a person who is the parent of the defendant’s child, former spouse, fiancé, or fiancée, or a person with whom the defendant currently has, or has previously had, a dating or engagement relationship, the battery is punishable by a fine not exceeding two thousand dollars ($2,000), or by imprisonment in a county jail for a period of not more than one year, or by both that fine and imprisonment.”

Understandably, television has caused a lot of confusion about the legal jargon. A battery, not assault, is any willful and unlawful use of force or violence upon the person of another. (CA PC § 242). Assault, on the other hand, is an unlawful attempt, coupled with a present ability, to commit a violent injury on the person of another. (CA PC § 240).

Additionally, California PC § 273.5(a) provides: 

“any person who willfully inflicts corporal injury resulting in a traumatic condition upon a victim described in subdivision (b) is guilty of a felony, and upon conviction, thereof shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for two, three, or four years, or in a county jail for not more than one year, or by a fine of up to six thousand dollars ($6,000), or by both that fine and imprisonment.”

Importantly,  PC § 273.5(d) defines a traumatic condition as a wound, or external or internal injury, including but not limited to injury as a result of strangulation or suffocation, whether minor or serious in nature, caused by physical force.

Similar to PC § 243(e)(1), PC § 273.5(a) also applies if the victim is or was:

  • The perpetrator’s spouse or former spouse;
  • The perpetrator’s cohabitant or former cohabitant;
  • The perpetrator’s fiancé or fiancée, or someone with whom the offender has, or previously had, an engagement or dating relationship;
  • The mother or father of the perpetrator’s child (biological or presumed).

There are separate code sections that describe and provide for the criminal penalties for both child abuse or endangerment and for elder abuse. Both of these penal codes provide for not only physical abuse, but also emotional, psychological, and financial abuse. Be sure to continue checking out our blog for further details on these issues.

Family Code

With respect to the California Family Code (FC), Section 6200 through 6460, et. seq., provides the Domestic Violence Prevention Act (DVPA). Under FC § 6203, abuse is NOT limited to the actual infliction of physical injury or assault. The DVPA defines domestic violence as intentionally or recklessly causing or attempting to cause bodily injury; sexual assault; placing one in reasonable fear of imminent serious bodily injury to themselves or someone else; and/or engaging in any behavior that has been or could be enjoined pursuant to Section 6320.

To be clear, according to FC § 6320 (a), behavior that can be enjoined (which is just a fancy word for stopped) includes ALL of the following:

  • molesting; 
  • attacking; 
  • striking; 
  • stalking; 
  • threatening; 
  • sexually assaulting; 
  • battering; 
  • credibly impersonating (as described in PC § 528.5); 
  • falsely personating (as described in PC § 529); 
  • harassing;
  • telephoning, including, but not limited to, making annoying telephone calls; 
  • destroying personal property; 
  • contacting, either directly or indirectly, by mail or otherwise (this includes by social media or email); 
  • coming within a specified distance of; or 
  • disturbing the peace of the other party.

Pursuant to FC § 6211, domestic violence is abuse that is perpetrated against any of the following:

  • A spouse or former spouse;
  • A cohabitant or former cohabitant;
  • A person with whom the perpetrator is having or has had a dating or engagement relationship;
  • A person with whom the perpetrator has had a child;
  • A child of either party or a child who is the subject of an action under the Uniform Parentage Act; or
  • Any other person related by blood or marriage within the second degree (i.e., parents, children, grandparents, grandchildren, nieces/nephews, aunts, uncles, and half-siblings).

Notably, the Family Code broadens the categories of people that can find civil relief and protection in the family court.

These terms, though, don’t really give us a real picture of what domestic violence can look like. It can take many forms and as each definition makes clear, it isn’t just harmful touching. While it can be physical violence that is perpetrated against an individual, it can also be emotional, psychological, verbal, sexual, and economic abuse.

Join us for the next post in this 4-part series, as we clarify what domestic violence can look like.

If You Need Help NOW:

If you are in immediate danger, please call 9-1-1. For anonymous, confidential help, 24/7, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE) or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY).

If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic violence, but don’t know what your legal options are, call the Law Office of Erika A. Williams at (855) 972-1644 or visit our Contact page to schedule a consultation or case evaluation.


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