Domestic Violence

Domestic violence, also known as battering, is a pattern of behavior by which one person tries to control the thoughts, beliefs, or actions of a partner, friend, or any other person close to them. While the violence may cause injury, it does not have to be physical. Domestic violence also takes the form of emotional, verbal, mental, sexual, and economic abuse.

The U.S. Department of Justice estimates that more than 90 percent of all domestic violence victims are female and that most abusers are male. Whether the victim is male or female, violence of any kind in relationships is unacceptable. Domestic violence affects people of every age, racial or ethnic background, religious group, neighborhood, and income level. Domestic violence also occurs in lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and same-sex relationships. Reprinted with permission from Jane Doe Inc.

Domestic abuse and dating violence are serious crimes. Those convicted can be fined, imprisoned, required to attend an abuse prevention or counseling program, and/or subject to University discipline.

Abuse Prevention Act

Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 209A (also known as the Abuse Prevention Act) provides victims of domestic abuse with protection and relief, including restraining orders and monetary damages. Abuse is the occurrence of one or more of the following acts between family or household members: (1) attempting to cause or causing physical harm; (2) placing another in fear of imminent physical harm; or (3) causing another to engage involuntarily in sexual relations by force, threat, or duress. Family or household members are persons who: (1) are or were married to one another; (2) are or were residing together in the same household; (3) are or were related by blood or marriage; (4) had a child in common regardless of whether they have ever been married or lived together; or (5) are or have been in a substantive dating relationship. Advice and assistance regarding domestic abuse or dating violence is available from the Boston University Police Department Detective Bureau via the Web or by telephone at 617-353-3436 from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. After these hours you should contact the BUPD at 617-353-2121.

Legal Duties of the Police

Whenever a police officer has reason to believe that a person has been abused or is in danger of being abused, the officer shall use all reasonable means to prevent further abuse. By law, police officers are required to:
  1. Remain on the scene where abuse occurred, or is in danger of occurring, as long as the officer has reason to believe that someone is in physical danger.
  2. Assist the abused person in obtaining medical treatment.
  3. Assist the abused person in getting to a safe place.
  4. Give the abused person a notice of his or her rights. (See Notice of Victim Rights below.)
  5. If necessary, activate the emergency judicial response system by contacting the state police.
  6. Inform the victim that the abuser, if under arrest, may be eligible for bail, and may be released.
  7. Arrest any person the officer has probable cause to believe has violated a domestic abuse prevention order.
  8. Arrest even when a domestic abuse prevention order is not in effect, whenever an officer witnesses, or has probable cause to believe, that a person has committed (1) a felony, or (2) a misdemeanor involving abuse. Arrests are the preferred response in Massachusetts.
  9. Enter the premises at the request of someone in lawful control of the premises, or enforce the provisions of a protective court order, or take reasonable measures to prevent any further abuse.

Notice of Victim Rights—A Summary

You have the right to go to court, and to file a domestic abuse complaint requesting:
An order restraining your attacker from abusing you;
An order directing your attacker to leave your household, building, or workplace.
You have the right to seek a criminal complaint for threats, assault and battery, or other related offenses.
If you are in need of medical treatment, the police will arrange transportation for you to the nearest hospital or otherwise assist you in obtaining medical treatment.
If requested, the police will remain at the scene until you can leave or until your safety is otherwise ensured.
You may request that the officer assist you by arranging transportation or by taking you to a safe place such as a shelter or a family or friend's residence.
You may obtain a copy of the police incident report at no cost from the police department.

The Boston University Police Department will respond to any emergency on campus. The Boston University Police Department will assist all members of the Boston University community by assessing the incident, seeking legal protection, and referring victims to a counseling service. The Boston University Police Department does not respond to off-campus residences, but it will direct persons to the local police department or contact a crisis interventionist. In an emergency, the Boston University Police will call the other agency. The Boston University Police Department does not provide attorney services. An abuse victim has certain legal rights regarding recovery of damages or expenses. The department cannot assist in this area, nor can we recommend the names of any specific attorneys to contact.

Reporting Abuse to the Police
The objectives of the Boston University Police are, first, to help you to safety, second, to obtain any needed medical care and crisis intervention, and third, to help you prevent future abuse via the legal process. Boston University police officers have special training and procedures established for handling domestic violence cases. Reporting a domestic abuse case to the police does not commit the victim to further legal action. If you are willing to testify against your assailant, the police and the district attorney's office will handle the legal proceedings. It is not necessary for you to hire an attorney.

Crisis Intervention and Counseling Services
Boston University's crisis counselor is a specialist experienced in domestic violence cases and is trained to help the victims of crimes and other traumatic incidents. The counselor can meet a victim at the hospital and assist her or him during any legal procedures.

The crisis counselor can be reached at 617-353-3569 (Behavioral Medicine Clinic) during the work day. During nights and weekends, the crisis counselor can be paged by calling the Boston University Police Department or residence hall staff. Boston University's Behavioral Medicine Clinic at Student Health Services is a place where those who have suffered domestic abuse can discuss the feelings associated with abusive relationships. Sessions are designed to explore the impact of abuse and develop skills to regain control of one's life.

The Office of the Dean of Students assists students who have problems that affect any aspect of their University life. This office also assists students who have problems in the residence halls or in academic settings. Students who wish to discuss a problem or seek information on the services available should contact this office. Sometimes students may not wish to pursue a case through the criminal justice system. If the alleged perpetrator is a student, the Office of the Dean of Students has jurisdiction to investigate and to take disciplinary action against the student.

Employees may seek assistance through their Employee Relations representative at the Office of Human Resources, at the Office of Equal Opportunity, and at the Faculty-Staff Assistance Program. All members of the Boston University community may seek assistance through the various chaplains and pastoral counseling centers on campus.

Links to other counseling sites:

Massachusetts Office for Victim Assistance
Jane Doe Inc.
Casa Myrna Vazquez

Actions Abusers Use to Establish and Maintain Control

Physical Abuse
Violence is a powerful means of enforcing compliance.

Emotional Abuse
Insults play a major role in dating abuse. They tend to destroy a victim's independence and self-esteem, and cause the victim to comply with the abuser's demands.

Coercion, Manipulation, and Threats
Abusers use a variety of threats to enforce their demands: direct threats of physical harm, threats to commit suicide, and threats to expose embarrassing secrets.

Abusers engage in acts designed to frighten their victims: making frightening gestures, smashing things, displaying weapons, and throwing objects. In public situations, abusers use intimidating looks or gestures to communicate their wishes.

Denial and Blame
Abusers commonly refuse to accept responsibility for their actions and seek to blame their victims for the abuse.

The abuser displays anger and is jealous of the victim's family and friends. Victims often feel flattered by this behavior and view it as proof of affection.

Sexual Abuse
Conflicts about sex often can lead to violence. Abusers are likely to use their power to coerce compliance in sexual matters as in other facets of their relationships. The threat or use of physical violence often renders victims less able and willing to resist sexual abuse.

Abusers devote exorbitant amounts of energy and time to surveillance of their victims. The use of isolation increases the abuser's control. In isolation, incidents of physical abuse are more easily perpetrated, hidden, and denied.

Factors Contributing to Vulnerability

  • Peer pressure to conform to group norms (such as pressure to have a partner)
  • Confusion about issues of control and jealousy
  • Rejection of assistance from professional care providers and legal authorities
  • Exclusive reliance on one's peers for support, advice, and remedy

Facts About Domestic Abuse and Dating Violence

Domestic or dating violence is a crime. Those convicted can be sent to jail, fined, imprisoned, or compelled to attend an abuse prevention or counseling program.
High school and college women are more likely to be abused and assaulted by someone they know than by a stranger.
The use of alcohol or drugs, by both the victim and the offender, are often factors in domestic violence cases.
Large numbers of young adults are affected by relationship violence.
If violence occurs once in a dating relationship, it is likely to occur again.
Jealousy and uncontrollable anger are perceived by victims to be common causes of violence.
Intimidation—intending to strike fear into the other person or force the other person to do something—is a major motive for violence by males.
People misinterpret violent acts as signifying affection.

Warning Signs of Abuse

Check this list of warning signs to help answer the question: Am I Safe? These behaviors may indicate that you or someone you know is suffering from an abusive relationship.

Are you with someone who...

  • Is jealous and possessive toward you, won't let you have friends, checks up on you, won't accept breaking up?
  • Tries to control you by being very bossy, giving orders, making all the decisions; doesn't take your opinion seriously?
  • Is scary? You worry about how they will react to things you say or do? Threatens you, uses or owns weapons?
  • Is violent: has a history of fighting, loses their temper quickly, brags about mistreating others?
  • Pressures you for sex, is forceful or scary around sex? Thinks of you as a sex object?
  • Attempts to manipulate or guilt-trip you by saying "If you really loved me you would..."?
  • Gets too serious about the relationship too fast?
  • Abuses drugs or alcohol and pressures you to take them?
  • Blames you when they mistreat you? Says you provoked them, pressed their buttons, made them do it, led them on?
  • Has a history of bad relationships and blames the other person for all the problems?
  • Believes that men should be in control and powerful and that women should be passive and submissive?
  • Has hit, pushed, choked, restrained, kicked, or physically abused you?
  • Your family and friends have warned you about or told you they were worried for your safety?
  • If you are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender, has threatened to "out" you to family, friends, or co-workers if you don't comply with certain demands?
  • If you are an immigrant, has threatened or tried to turn you in to authorities and get you deported?

If you answered "YES" to any of these questions in thinking about yourself or someone you know, help is available. You can call an advocate at a local program or contact any of the following people if you feel safe doing so:

  • the staff at a domestic violence or sexual assault program
  • a police officer
  • a member of your family
  • a teacher or school counselor
  • your friends or their parents
  • your priest, minister, or rabbi
  • a doctor or nurse
  • people in court—the district attorney or victim witness advocate
  • another adult you trust

reprinted with permission from Jane Doe Inc.


Domestic Violence Myths

The questions here address many of the myths associated with domestic violence and describe the dynamics of abusive behavior. The warning signs—such as jealousy, name calling, and possessiveness—are red flags for an abusive relationship. If you need someone to talk to or fear you are in danger, please call your local domestic violence program or the BU Police for emergency help.

Myth: When a couple is having a domestic violence problem, it is just that they have a bad relationship. Often, it's poor communication that is the problem.

Fact: Bad relationships do not result in or cause domestic violence. The idea that bad relationships cause violence in the home is one of the most common, and dangerous, misconceptions about domestic violence. First, it encourages all parties involved—including and especially the victim—to minimize the seriousness of the problem and focus their energies on "improving the relationship" in the false hope that this will stop the violence. It also allows the abuser to blame the bad relationship and the violence itself on the victim, rather than acknowledging his or her own responsibility.

More importantly, improving the relationship is not likely, by itself, to end the violence. Violence is learned behavior. Many couples have had bad relationships yet never become physically violent. Many batterers are violent in every one of their relationships, whether they consider them bad or good. The violent individual is the sole source and cause of the violence, and neither his or her partner nor their relationship should be held responsible.

Myth: Most domestic violence incidents are caused by alcohol or drug abuse.

Fact: Many people have alcohol and/or drug problems but are not violent; similarly, many batterers are not substance abusers. How people behave when they are under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs depends on a complex combination of personal, social, physical, and emotional factors. And like many other types of behavior, alcohol or drug-affected behavior patterns are culturally learned.

It is often easier to blame an alcohol or drug abuse problem than to admit that you or your partner is violent even when sober. Episodes of problem drinking and incidents of domestic violence often occur separately and must be treated as two distinct issues. Neither alcoholism nor drugs can explain or excuse domestic violence.

Myth: Domestic violence is often triggered by stress, such as the loss of a job or some financial or marital problem.

Fact: Daily life is full of frustration associated with money and work, our families, and other personal relationships. Everyone experiences stress, and everyone responds to it differently.

Violence is a specific, learned, and chosen response to real or imagined stress. Certainly, high general levels of domestic violence can be related to social problems such as unemployment. However, other reactions to such situations are equally possible. Some people take out their frustrations on themselves with drug or alcohol; some take it out on others with verbal or physical abuse.

Myth: Most domestic violence occurs in lower class or minority communities.

Fact: Domestic violence occurs at all levels of society, regardless of social, economic, racial, or cultural backgrounds.

Researchers and service providers have found, however, that economic and social factors can have a significant impact on how people respond to violent incidents and what kind of help they seek. Affluent people can usually afford private help, such as doctors, lawyers, and counselors, while people with fewer financial resources (i.e., those belonging to a lower economic class or a minority group) tend to call the police or other public agencies. These agencies are often the only available source of statistics on domestic violence, and consequently, lower class and minority communities tend to be overrepresented in those figures, creating a distorted image of the problem.

Myth: The victim did something to provoke the violence.

Fact: No one deserves to be beaten, battered, threatened, or in any way victimized by violence. Batterers will rarely admit that they are the cause of the problem. In fact, putting the blame for the violence on the victim is a way to manipulate the victim and other people. Batterers will tell the victim, "You made me mad," or, "You made me jealous," or will try to shift the burden by saying, "Everyone acts like that." Most victims try to placate and please their abusive partners in order to de-escalate the violence. The batterer chooses to abuse, and bears full responsibility for the violence.

Myth: Most batterers simply lose control during violent incidents and do not know what they're doing.

Fact: If batterers were truly out of control, as many claim to be during violent incidents, there would be many more domestic violence homicides. In fact, many batterers do "control" their violence, abusing their victims in less visible places on their bodies, such as under the hairline or on the torso. Furthermore, researchers have found that domestic violence often occurs in cycles, and every episode is preceded by predictable, repeated patterns of behavior and decisions made by the batterer.

Myth: Men are victims of domestic violence as often as women, even if they aren't reported.

Fact: The bottom line is that domestic violence is a crime—regardless of the gender of the abuser or the victim and regardless of whether it is a heterosexual or same-sex relationship. Data from the FBI and the Bureau of Justice Statistics show that 85 percent of victims of Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) are women. Acknowledging this indisputable fact does not negate our concern for the men who comprise the remaining 15 percent of IPV victims.

Myth: Domestic violence is a less serious problem—less lethal—than "real" violence, like street crimes.

Fact: It is a terrible and unrecognized fact that, for many people, home is the least safe place. Domestic violence accounts for a significant proportion of all serious crimes—aggravated assault, rape, and homicide. Furthermore, when compared with stranger-to-stranger crime, the rate of occurrence and level of severity are still underreported for domestic violence.

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Domestic Violence

One in four lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people is battered by a partner, yet this is an issue that is still "in the closet" for LGBT communities. Support services are available for those being battered. It is important to note that because Massachusetts has enacted a civil rights law that recognizes individual rights regardless of one's sexual orientation, restraining order laws in Massachusetts also apply to LGBT relationships.

If you are battered and in need of support, call your local domestic violence program or hotline and ask about the programs in your area. Here is a list of programs that provide services statewide.
If you live outside of Massachusetts, contact your local domestic violence program or:

The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP)
A coalition of over 20 lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender victim advocacy and documentation programs located throughout the United States can provide referral to programs across the country.

The Network/LaRed

617-423-7233 v/TTY

Services for lesbian, bisexual women, transgender folks, MTF & FTM transexuals, intersexed folks, and women involved with other women.
English/Spanish Bilingual hotline
Emergency shelter
Support group
Safety planning
Referrals available including legal services
Interpreters provided free of charge

Fenway Violence Recovery Program

toll-free 800-834-3242

The VRP provides counseling, support groups, advocacy, and referral services to Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender (GLBT) victims of bias crime, domestic violence, sexual assault, and police misconduct.

Hours: 9-5 EST
Legal advocacy
Support groups for battered lesbians and gay men
Mental health services (fee charged)

Gay Men's Domestic Violence Project

The Gay Men's Domestic Violence Project is a grassroots, nonprofit organization offering community education and direct services to clients. GMDVP provides shelter, guidance, and resources to fellow gay, bisexual, and transgender men in crisis who must remove themselves from violent situations and relationships.

  • Community education and direct services for clients.
  • Shelter, guidance, and resources to fellow gay, bisexual, and transgender men in crisis to remove themselves from violent situations and relationships.


"Same-Sex Domestic Violence: Strategies for Change" edited by Beth Leventhal and Sandra Lundy, Sage Press
"Violence in Gay and Lesbian Domestic Partnerships" By Claire M. Renzetti, Haworth Press
"Violent Betrayal: Partner Abuse in Lesbian Relationships" By Claire M. Renzetti, Sage Publications
"Woman-to-Woman Sexual Violence: Does She Call It Rape?" By Lori B. Girshick, Northeastern University Press

Reprinted with permission from Jane Doe Inc.