SWINDLE COLUMN: Domestic violence in Georgia

Published 9:30 am Thursday, October 7, 2021

It is often unseen. It is often unreported. It is sometimes falsely reported.

However, domestic violence is much more prevalent in society than many people know. The state of Georgia defines domestic violence as an act of “family violence.” The law protects victims against physical and sexual abuse among family members.

I am not a fan of statistics because they can easily be manipulated. However, many studies show that three in ten women in the U.S. have experienced rape, physical violence and/or stalking by an intimate partner. While the percentage is lower, men are victims as well.

Georgia’s Family Violence Act (FVA) is a law designed to protect individuals who are abused by present or past spouses, parents of the same child, parents and children, stepparents and stepchildren, foster parents and foster children, or other persons living or formerly living in the same household.

Most of the laws relevant to domestic violence are based on state law. This includes restraining or protection orders, divorce, custody, crimes, and more. A wide array of crimes are committed during divorce and custody disputes. These can be violent or non-violent crimes.

Domestic violence charges are treated very seriously in Georgia. While most family violence cases are misdemeanors, if a person is convicted under the FVA, they lose their right to possess a firearm under federal law.

Additionally, Georgia’s criminal justice system punishes most acts involving family violence more severely than identical acts committed between people who are not in a domestic relationship.

For example, most simple assaults are punished as misdemeanors. But, the same assaults involving family violence can be punished more severely as misdemeanors of a high and aggravated nature.

Battery illustrates another good instance of the harsher penalties involved with domestic violence convictions.

While a second conviction for family violence battery results in a felony, batteries not involving family violence don’t increase to felonies until the defendant’s third conviction for battery committed against the same victim.

Some civil remedies can result in a criminal prosecution. A judge can issue a protective order.

This order prohibits the offender from having contact with the victim for a specified period of time. If a person is found to have violated a restraining or protective order, he or she could be jailed and charged with a separate crime, including aggravated stalking.

Most judges are very reluctant to grant a bond on aggravated stalking, which carries up to 20 years in the state penitentiary.

Protective Orders can be powerful weapons if they are not abused by less than honest people. A judge can:

  • Order an abuser to leave the victim alone;
  • Give the victim possession of the house and force the abuser to leave;
  • Order assistance to help a victim get his or her personal property;
  • Make the abuser provide alternate housing for a spouse, former spouse, or parent and children;
  • Give the victim temporary custody of shared children and set temporary visitation rights;
  • Award temporary child support and/or spousal support from the abuser; and
  • Order the abuser to go to counseling.

However, if an alleged victim attempts to use a protective order in order to gain an upper hand in a divorce or lies to the judge, he or she will face serious consequences, including being charged with perjury, making false statements to law enforcement, and other crimes.

Victims of domestic violence need to speak out and seek immediate help and keep a safe distance from the abuser.

Alleged abusers who are facing a civil hearing or have been charged with a crime must make sure that they seek the services of an experienced criminal defense attorney who can effectively defend the allegations of domestic violence.

If we, as a community, make a strong concerted effort to bring awareness regarding domestic violence to the public, it will not eradicate this evil within homes. But, the instances of such conduct will decrease.

I humbly ask you to join me in spreading the word throughout west Georgia about this issue that destroys relationships, happiness and even lives.