by Sharon Frankenberg, Attorney at Law

October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month.  Domestic violence is a pattern of controlling behavior aimed at gaining power in order to control an intimate partner.  “It is not just about hitting and punching.  It is a pattern of assaultive and coercive behavior, including psychological, sexual and physical abuse. The syndrome of dominance and control by the perpetrator leading to entrapment of the victim is also known as the ‘battering syndrome.’ ”  Tennessee District Attorneys General Conference- Domestic Violence

Nearly a quarter of women in the United States will be abused at some time in their lives.  It is conservatively estimated that between two and four million women are battered each year in the United States.  Nineteen to thirty percent of women coming into medical emergency departments with physical injuries are battered.  There are two thousand deaths each year from domestic violence.

The Tennessee criminal statute on domestic violence (T.C.A. §39-13-111)  is defined as committing one of the following against a family or household member:

  1. intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly causing bodily injury to the victim, or
  2. intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly causing the victim to reasonably fear imminent bodily injury, or
  3. intentionally or knowingly causing physical contact that a reasonable person would regard as extremely offensive or provocative.

Other offenses between intimate partners or family members may be classified as domestic violence.  These offenses include Homicide, Attempted Homicide, Rape, Kidnapping, Aggravated Assault, Harassment, Stalking, Protective Order Violations, Vandalism, Theft and Cruelty to Animals.

A victim of domestic violence should report the situation to law enforcement immediately.  If it is an emergency, the victim should call 911.  If it is not an emergency, the victim should call local police and make a report.  The District Attorney General’s Office is responsible for bringing criminal charges and prosecuting domestic violence cases.

If you are a victim of domestic violence you may also seek an Order of Protection.  To obtain an Order of Protection you (1) must be eighteen years or older or a fully emancipated minor;  and (2) are being physically abused by a present or former adult family or household member, or (3) have been verbally threatened with abuse;  or (4) your personal property has been destroyed in the course of threats or abuse.  You need not have been married to the abuser but he must be presently or formerly related by blood or marriage to you or be someone who has lived in your household.

You do not have to have a lawyer to get an Order of Protection but a petition for an Ex parte Order of Protection must be filed with the court in your county.  You must go to the courthouse and tell the court clerk that you need to obtain a protective order and fill out a form describing the abuse.  You must tell when, where and what happened.  When your papers have been filled out, you will find out when you can see a judge about issuing the Order of Protection.

Knox County has a very organized program through Fourth Circuit Court to help victims of domestic abuse.  Next week, I will go into more depth about that program and the help that is available to victims of domestic abuse.

Sharon Frankenberg is an experienced attorney licensed in Tennessee since 1988.  She is a sole practitioner who handles foreclosures, landlord-tenant, probate, collections and general civil matters.  She represents Social Security disability claimants and represents creditors in bankruptcy proceedings. Her office number in Knoxville is (865)539-2100.