Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence

Domestic Violence

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Frequently Asked Questions

Q. Who are the victims of domestic violence?
A. Domestic violence doesn’t discriminate. Victims can be any age, gender, sexual orientation or race and from any socio-economic group. Research shows that most victims are female who are abused by male partners and that racial and ethnic minority women and men are most likely to experience gender-based violence.

Q. Can men be victims of domestic violence?
A. Yes. Anyone can be a victim of domestic violence. While some male victims of domestic violence are abused by female partners, most male victims are abused by other men.

Q. Who are the abusers?
A. As with victims, abusers can come from any walk of life, any gender, background or ethnicity.

Q. Is there any way to tell that someone will be abusive in their relationship? 
A. Abusers don’t announce their behavior at the start of a relationship, but there are some common traits shared by many abusers. They may seem charming, jealous, controlling and manipulative, and they may blame others for their problems. They may rush into a relationship (“sweep you off your feet” or proclaim “love at first sight”) and insist that you spend all your time with them. These are “red flags,” but there are often no signs at all.

Q. Is it true that boys who witness domestic violence at home grow up to be abusers and girls who witness it grow up to become victims who seek abusive partners?
A. Not necessarily. There are boys who are abusive as adults but never saw abuse as children, and others who saw abuse as children but decided they were not going to repeat that behavior. Ultimately, all abusive behavior is a personal choice. There is no reliable research showing that girls who see violence in the home seek out abusive partners as adults, although they may stay in a relationship with an abusive partner longer than someone who was not a child witness.

Q. Is child abuse domestic violence?
A. No. When we talk about “domestic violence,” we mean abusive behavior and crimes committed by one intimate partner (current or former spouse or dating partner) against another. There is a strong link between domestic violence and child abuse. Many people who abuse their partners also abuse children in the household. And witnessing domestic violence can have many lasting negative effects on children.

Q. What about elder abuse?
A. Elder abuse occurs when a family member or caretaker mistreats an older adult. Domestic violence against older adults specifically refers to controlling and abusive behaviors by the older adult’s intimate partner.

Q. Is there a link between domestic violence and animal/pet abuse?
A. Yes. Committing violence against animals is one way that abusers threaten and punish victims and children. Many victims feel they can’t leave the abuser because they are afraid to leave a pet, and most shelters are not equipped to house pets. Abusers know this and use it to their advantage. It is not uncommon for abusers to train animals to attack victims and children, so that the animal is used as a weapon.

Q. Why don’t victims leave at the first sign of abuse? Why do they feel trapped?
A. There are many reasons a victim of domestic violence may stay. In addition to these possible reasons, victims’ fears are often based on threats made by the abuser. And victims might be afraid to leave because abuse can get much worse after a victim leaves, when the abuser realizes they are losing control. Abusers often stalk their victims post-separation. Many domestic homicides take place during or shortly after a victim has left the relationship.

Q. What help is available for victims of domestic violence?
A. Anyone can call The NYS Domestic and Sexual Violence Hotline, 1-800-942-6906, 24/7. It is a multi-language confidential hotline. Trained counselors provide crisis intervention, supportive counseling, and information and referral services. The hotline can also refer you to the Domestic Violence Service Provider in your county. Additional resources may include: police, probation, Family Court, local civil legal services, local Department of Social Services, Child Protective Services, Adult Protective Services, and local Victim Assistance Programs. An advocate at the hotline or your local program can help talk to you about your options.

Q. What does a domestic violence program do?
A. Domestic violence programs offer 24-hour hotlines, confidential counseling and emergency housing (shelter) for domestic violence victims and their children. You don’t have to stay in a domestic violence shelter to get help. Programs may also offer support groups, services for children and many other services that can help victims. These services are free to victims.

Q. Are there resources for male victims of domestic violence?
A. Yes. In New York State, all licensed and approved programs must provide services, including emergency shelter, for victims of domestic violence, regardless of gender.

Q. Is help available for abusers who want to stop abusing? Can abusers change?
A. Changing one’s behavior is possible, but it’s not quick or easy to do. Unless abusers take full responsibility for their behaviors, they are unlikely to change. The National Domestic Violence Hotline has more information. To learn more about coercive control, guidelines for abusive partner intervention programs and holding abusers accountable, see Abusive Partners on OPDV’s website.

Q. What causes domestic violence?
A. Many factors contribute to domestic violence, but it is always caused by one person’s choice to control another person in a relationship. It is not caused by drugs or alcohol, mental illness or by anything the victim did. Abuse is always a choice. And it’s never the victim’s fault.

Q. Is the economy causing more domestic violence?
A. A bad economy or personal financial struggles will not cause someone to be abusive. However, in homes where one partner is already abusive, strained finances and unemployment can make domestic violence worse.

Q. If I see or hear people fighting, should I call the police?
A. If you think someone is in immediate danger, yes. But there may be situations in which an officer arriving on the scene could cause more problems for the victim. If possible, find out what the victim would prefer. They are usually the best judge of their own situation. And trust your instincts. Bystander intervention can mean the difference between life and death. 

Q. Is there a crime called “domestic violence” in New York State? 
A. New York State does not have a crime called “domestic violence.” If the abuser commits any crime against you (such as assault or stalking), they could be arrested and prosecuted in criminal court. New York State has “Mandatory Arrest” laws regarding domestic violence. This means that the police must make an arrest when they have reasonable cause to believe that a person has committed specific crimes against members of their family or household.

Q. What good is an Order of Protection?
A. An Order of Protection (OP) is also commonly (but incorrectly) called a Restraining Order. It orders one person to stay away from or stop behaving a certain way towards another person. Violating the OP is a crime called Criminal Contempt and could result in more charges. It’s true an OP “won’t stop a bullet,” but it can be one way to hold offenders accountable.

Q. What does OPDV do?
A. ODPV’s main purposes are advising the Governor on legislation, training professionals, and promoting awareness of the issue. OPDV does not provide direct service to victims. For immediate help contact the NYS Domestic and Sexual Hotline at 1-800-942-6906.

Q. What do I do if someone I know is being abused?
A. If you know someone who is being abused, let the person know you’re there for them. Believe what they tell you, without blame or judgment. Ask them how you can help, being sure to keep your own safety in mind. Give them the phone number of the NYS Domestic & Sexual Violence Hotline (1-800-942-6906). Calls are anonymous and confidential and don’t require callers to take immediate action.

Q. What if I know the abuser?
A. If you know the abuser, you could call the police or talk to the abuser about the consequences of their actions. It is important to consider your own safety, and the needs and safety of the victim, before deciding.

Q. What can someone do to help with the overall problem of domestic violence?
A. There are many ways someone can make a difference. Find them on our Making a Difference in Your Community page.