Saturday, December 27, 2008

Domestic Violence in the Gay Community

Domestic Violence in the Gay Community

By Norm Kent

Originally published on Labor Day, 2008 in the Express Gay News of South Florida

In order to promote a campaign of public awareness against domestic violence, Broward County Sheriff Lamberti is appearing this month in a public service announcement on local television to urge battered women to get help.

Last year, in Florida, a state of 18 million people, there were over 115,000 cases of domestic violence reported. Over 160 of those cases involved deaths.

When most people think of domestic violence, the stereotypical response is that of a husband beating his wife. But wives as well as husbands, and family members against other household members, can also commit acts of domestic violence. Unfortunately, so do, and so can, same-sex partners.

Marriage ban or not, the laws on domestic violence are applied to homosexual relationships in Florida. If you strike or batter your partner, you can be arrested, jailed, and prosecuted. Those of us who practice criminal defense see same-sex prosecutions in court daily.

All it takes is one punch, a thrown beer bottle, or one cut. Someone gets hurt, paramedics were called, the police responded, and somebody went to jail. More often than not, the next day, in a more sober moment, you make up with your partner. The State Attorney’s office, however, with or without the victim’s consent can go forward with a criminal prosecution. Now you are facing probation or jail time, and court ordered supervision.

An arrest for domestic violence can also be devastating to your career. It almost can never be expunged and inhibits job opportunities in many social service fields. As hard as it is to do, the best way never to get there is sometimes own up to the fact that you have to secure a civil restraining order against the potential abuser. It can be obtained by anyone who has had harm done to their person or property, or can legitimately attest such harm is likely to occur.

To secure such an order, you must make an application and fill out a self-explanatory affidavit, available at your local courthouse. While a lawyer is not required, it is often prudent to secure independent counsel if you can afford to do so. This removes you from the emotion of the moment and insures that your petition is legally sufficient. This decision should depend on the immediacy of the moment. If you fear for your life, do not wait for an appointment with a lawyer. Do it yourself.

A restraining order makes any contact by the abuser illegal, subjecting the abuser to arrest and other penalties under the law.

At the initial stages, the courts tend to favor the complaining party. They figure that the restraining order is a protection against domestic violence, and that if you were not going to do anything wrong to another, you are not victimized by being told to stay away from that person.

Once secured, a sheriff's deputy will then serve the restraining order on the person against whom it is being imposed. After being served with that order, if that person violates any of the terms of the restraining order, or has any unlawful contact with you, or he or she will be subject to immediate arrest.

Once served, you must go to court with your temporary order to make it permanent. At that time, your former partner also has a right to appear to contest it, and represent his claims. This hearing allows the judge to hear both sides of the story and make a decision about whether the restraining order should remain in effect for an extended period of time. If the jurist elects to do, he can impose a wide breadth of conditions against either party to guarantee enforcement of his order. You can be restrained from e mailing, physical contacts, verbal contacts, and from going to or from specific locations. I have even seen limitations imposed on visits for your pets.

Having a lawyer present at this stage can be critical for both sides. The claimant needs to insure his application met the proper legal requirements. The target of the order wants to prevent his rights and freedoms from being abridged. A skilled lawyer will be able to make a concise and powerful presentation of the relevant facts in your case.

There are different kinds of restraining orders as well. Domestic Violence Restraining Orders are usually imposed against people you live or lived with. However, for an act of Repeat Violence, you may file for a Restraining Order against anyone. There must have been two occurrences or acts of physical or sexual abuse, and one occurrence must have been in the last six months.

Individuals who have or have had a continuing and significant relationship of a romantic or intimate nature may also file a request for a dating violence restraining order. The dating relationship must have existed within the past 6 months.

The biggest problem I see in the enforcement of restraining orders is when partners reconcile, as we are so often likely to do. Once you resume contact with your ex-, you will jeopardize any future attempt you may make to enforce that restraining order, or secure another in the future. Seeking a restraining order is something you should not do lightly. Fill one out falsely and you can be charged with perjury.

Another mistake I often see partners make is when they do reconcile, they fail to go to court to seek an order declaring the court’s orders null and void. An argument ensues, a fight develops, the police arrive, out comes the restraining order, and into jail goes one of the partners.

Finally, don’t assume that just because you own the house and pay the mortgage that if an altercation develops with a live in partner, that person will automatically be removed from the home. If the police are satisfied the homeowner engaged in an act of domestic violence, he could still be the one to go to jail and even temporarily removed by a court from his own home.

Despite the sheriff’s noble ads, domestic violence is not just battered wives anymore. It is gay men and women also beating each other.

The time to stop it was yesterday. The time to do something about it is now.

On a personal and non legal level, if you love your partner, then explore in the calm of day alternatives to prevent the situation from reaching these disastrous stages. See counselors, attend anger management sessions, and invite intermediary steps which can avoid the catastrophic consequences of violence. Have the guts to get help before a court orders you to do so. The life and relationship you save could be your own.

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