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Ask an Advocate: Can I Get a Restraining Order for Emotional Abuse?

July 19, 2018

Through our Ask an Advocate series, we’re answering common questions about domestic violence that survivors and their family members may have. Read them all here.  

Dear Ned,

I’ve been dating my boyfriend for almost a year now and our relationship has gotten really bad. My best friend has helped me realize that he’s abusive. Our relationship started out so great – he’s a romantic and would always tell me how much he loves me and needs me, even at the very beginning. He still does that, but now it’s almost always after we have a fight. For the last few months, he’s picked fights over nothing, blamed me for things I didn’t do (or even for things he did), and also told me that he’d kill himself without me. Sometimes he makes me feel so worthless, and says really humiliating things about me in front of our friends. Recently, I had a panic attack after a fight and my friend talked to me about leaving him, but I’m scared of what his reaction would be. My friend thinks I should get a restraining order, but he’s not stalking me or hitting me so I’m not sure if I’m able to get one. What can I do?

Sincerely,

I Need to Know My Options

Dear I Need to Know My Options,

First of all, I’m sorry that you were put in this situation, but I’m glad you’re reaching out. A partner should never make you feel worthless and humiliate you. Every person deserves to be treated with respect by their partner. Both survivors and advocates understand that abuse isn’t always physical. Often abuse can be emotional, psychological, verbal or financial. Unfortunately, the legal definition of abuse for the purposes of getting a restraining order is often narrow. Many times, state laws don’t cover abuse unless it includes stalking, threats, or physical or sexual abuse.

Regardless of what the law says, it is not healthy or acceptable to treat a partner in a way that demeans them. Even if there is no physical violence, abusive language and behavior can be damaging to a person’s mental health and well-being. Often an abusive partner uses humiliation, blame, and threats of self-harm as a way to control another person. Even if the law doesn’t recognize what you’re going through as domestic violence, there are other ways to seek resources and plan for your safety. Advocates are trained to understand the dynamics of domestic violence and can offer support and safety planning. You can find information about advocates and resources available in your state or territory at WomensLaw.org, a project of the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV). On the website, you’ll find plain-language legal information about the restraining orders available in your state or territory and your other legal options. WomensLaw.org also offers an email hotline, where you can ask a legal expert about the laws in your state. Additionally, advocates at the National Domestic Violence Hotline are available 24/7 to offer you support and talk through your options. You can reach the Hotline at 1-800-799-7233, or you can live chat at TheHotline.org.

Since every state and territory has a slightly different definition of domestic violence for purposes of getting a restraining order, it may be helpful to learn what the law says in your state or territory. Additionally, many states have other types of restraining orders that may be able to help, including restraining orders to protect from harassment and stalking. You may be eligible for one of those types of orders. Safety planning, the process of creating a plan with an advocate to keep an individual safe, is also a useful way to learn about your options and reduce risks when leaving a partner. Abuse is never your fault and there are resources and advocates ready to help.

Sincerely,

Ned


Read more in our Ask an Advocate series. For state-specific, plain-language legal information visit WomensLaw.org.