To help fight domestic violence, the Attorney General strives to enhance cooperation between state agencies, provide helpful information to victims, and promote statewide awareness and education. The Attorney General’s Office also supports legislation to combat domestic violence and sexual assault, while implementing grant programs and other initiatives, such as Verizon Wireless's HopeLine Program, which donates cell phones to local shelters for victims.
If you feel you have been a victim of domestic violence, please call the police if you are in immediate danger. You should also call the Virginia Family Violence and Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-838-8238 for confidential help and referral information. The Office of the Attorney General does not provide domestic violence counseling and cannot give you legal advice.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month!
In recognition of October as Domestic Violence Awareness Month, Attorney General Herring has made the "dating violence" module of the Virginia Rules program available to the public. The module is usually taught by trained instructors to high school age students, but for this month, the lessons and materials are available to all parents and community leaders who want resources for talking with their young people about dating and relationship violence.
Domestic Violence: Overview
Domestic violence is a pattern of behavior, and a method of control. It is a means of establishing a hierarchy of power within a relationship, in which one partner dominates the other through use of physical violence and/or psychological abuse. Family violence includes five primary categories of abusive behaviors: physical violence, emotional abuse, sexual assault, economic control and neglect.
Physical violence includes, but is not limited to, such acts as hitting, slapping, choking, kicking, biting, pushing, and using weapons. Physical violence against a family member very often rises to the level of criminal behavior in Virginia. See, e.g., Va. Code §18.2-57.2.
Emotional abuse may take the form of humiliation and intimidation tactics such as calling the victim degrading names, diminishing the victim’s sense of self-worth, threatening harm to the victim or family, torturing pets, and destroying personal property. Isolation maneuvers are also common. For instance, the victim’s outside contacts with friends or family may be monitored or criticized. The victim may be denied access to a vehicle. Over time, all meaningful contact between the victim and outsiders may be eliminated. Some acts of emotional abuse are explicitly illegal, such as stalking, torturing pets or making threats. See, e.g., Va. Code §§18.2-60.3, 3.1-796.12, 18.2-60 respectively. Other acts of emotional abuse may not be criminal in nature but form an underlying pattern of control. In the earliest stages, where a pattern of abuse is still developing and the abuser may recognize the actions as wrong, counseling and treatment programs are an option. A victim’s best protection from further abuse, especially if threats of serious physical harm are involved, may be in filing a protective order or an order pendente lite (an order pending divorce). See, e.g., Va. Code §§16.1-253.4 (emergency protective orders), 16.1-253, 16.1-253.1 (preliminary protective orders), 16.1-279.1 (long-term protective orders), 20-79 (pendente lite), 20-103 (orders pending the suit).
Sexual assault entails forcing the victim to engage in sexual acts against the victim’s will. The Virginia Code contains several sections related to sexual abuse including sexual assault, incest, molestation, object penetration, rape and marital rape. Most acts of sexual abuse are criminal in nature. In recent years, Virginia has modified its rape laws. A husband too, may be guilty of raping his wife if he sexually assaulted her against her will. Va. Code §18.2-61.
Economic control may include discouraging or forbidding employment, withholding information about family finances, controlling all family finances and accounts, or improper use of power of attorney. Like many forms of emotional abuse, this type of abuse may not be criminal in nature, although it may include some criminal elements such as assault.
Neglect is a form of abusive behavior most often seen in relationships between adults and the children in their care or between adults responsible for the care of older or disabled individuals. Neglect of children is the failure or refusal through a willful act or omission to provide adequate food, clothing, shelter, health care, or supervision in relation to a child’s age and level of development. It includes abandonment, expulsion from home, not allowing a run away to return home, failure to enroll a child in school and permitting chronic truancy. Va. Code §18.2-369.
Source: Information from the "What is Domestic Violence?" section and some information used in the Executive Summary are from Family Violence Reference Manual by The Virginia Commission on Family Violence Prevention.
Domestic Violence: Resources
For More Information
For Civil & Criminal Justice System Professionals
Legislative updates related to domestic and sexual violence and stalking (Effective July 1, 2014)
Domestic Violence: Publications
The Attorney General’s Office also provides the following free publications to help combat domestic violence:
Safe at Home: What Everyone Should Know About Domestic Violence (offered in English and Spanish)
Domestic Violence Intervention: Pocket Guide for Police
What You Should Know About Protective Orders (offered in English and Spanish)
To order a free copy of any of these brochures, please call the Attorney General’s Office at (804) 786-2071,
Domestic Violence: Legislation
For full text of these code sections, please refer to the Virginia Code.
Domestic Violence - Initiatives and Programs
The Address Confidentiality Program (ACP) is a confidential mail-forwarding service for domestic violence victims who have recently relocated to a location unknown to their abuser. The goal of the ACP is to help domestic violence victims keep their new address confidential.
The Attorney General’s Community Recognition Program for Promising Practices in Domestic Violence Response is designed to recognize localities that have instituted promising or innovative practices in responding to domestic violence in their communities. This Program also encourages localities to develop and implement policies and practices to enhance the community response to domestic violence issues.
Domestic Violence: Training for Mandated Reporters of Child Abuse
Under Virginia law, certain people must report suspected cases of child abuse and neglect. These "mandated reporters" include health care workers, teachers, law enforcement officers and others who come in regular contact with children. They must inform the Virginia Department of Social Services when they suspect a child is being abused or neglected. The video, "Protecting Children: A Mandated Reporter’s Guide to Recognizing and Reporting Child Abuse and Neglect," is designed to help mandated reporters carry out this mission.
This project was sponsored by the Young Lawyers Division of the Virginia Bar Association and the Office of the Attorney General. The Family and Children's Trust Fund provided additional funding for the production and distribution of the video.
Domestic Violence - More Information
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