Terms Commonly Used When Discussing Domestic Violence

Engaging in a conversation about domestic violence can be emotional and daunting. The language used may be unfamiliar to most people outside of the advocacy or legal world, making the conversation that much more uncomfortable. We thought it would be helpful and beneficial to create more ease when discussing domestic violence by sharing the definitions of some of the most commonly used phrases.

Advocate: A trained professional or volunteer working for a non-profit or government-based domestic violence victim-witness advocate program.

Abuser: A person who uses abusive tactics and behavior to exert power and control over another person with whom the abuser is in an intimate, dating or family relationship.

Case Management: The coordination of services on behalf of an individual by an advocate.

Civil Protection Order (CPO): A court order that usually requires a respondent to stay away from and have no contact with the petitioner and directs the respondent not to commit any criminal offense against the petitioner. The order can also specify terms of custody, require the respondent to vacate the household and/or order the respondent to relinquish firearms or other property. CPOs are in effect for a period of one year and can be extended or modified by a judge.

Continuance: A judge can reschedule the case to a later hearing date; if there is a Temporary Protection Order (TPO) it can usually be extended until that date. Even if a case is continued, the petitioner must appear at every court date so that the case is not dismissed.

Domestic Violence: A pattern of behavior in which one individual attempts to exert power and control over another individual in a current or former intimate relationship.

Depositions: Pretrial proceedings in which attorneys for parties in a civil case have the opportunity to examine, under oath, the opposing parties and potential witnesses in the case. Depositions are sworn and reduced to writing. The transcripts may be admissible in evidence at trials if the witnesses are no longer available.

Isolation: When one person uses friends, family and social networks to establish and maintain power and control over a victim. Examples include, but are not limited to: controlling where a victim goes, who s/he talks to, what s/he wears, and/or who s/he sees, limiting involvement in places of worship, PTA and other social networks.

Lethality Assessment: An analysis done by an advocate or law enforcement officer to determine the level of risk of homicide for a victim of domestic violence based on recent and changing behaviors of the batterer.

Perpetrator: A person carrying out domestic violence behaviors.

Protection Order: The general term for an order issued by the Court mandating a batterer to not contact, harass or come within a certain distance of the petitioner and/or other persons named in the order.

Safety Plan: A plan, verbal or written, a victim of domestic violence creates with an advocate. The plan consists of action steps a victim can take to keep her/his children safe when violence takes place or to stop violence from happening.

Trauma Informed Care: Promotes a culture of safety, empowerment and healing. It means treating the whole person, taking into account past trauma and the resulting coping mechanisms when attempting to understand behaviors and treat the patient.

Stalking: When one person pursues, follows or harasses another person against her/his wishes. Examples include, but are not limited to: repeated, unwanted phone calls, following a victim, sending unwanted gifts, destroying or vandalizing a victim’s property, repeated threats and/or tracking a victim’s online activity. 

Vicarious Trauma: The impact of exposure to extreme events experienced by another person resulting in the listener feeling overwhelmed by the trauma or triggering the listener’s own past trauma(s).

Source: DC Coalition Against Domestic Violence, “Commonly Used Terms in Cases Involving Domestic Violence”

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