Domestic Violence Victims

No matter your age, ethnicity, or orientation, you have the right to safety and security within your home and relationship. District Attorney Conley recognizes the physical, emotional, and psychological harm that victims of domestic violence can suffer in an abusive relationship with a current or former partner, spouse, or family member.

The first of its kind in Massachusetts, the Suffolk DA’s Domestic Violence Unit was created in 1996 to meet the specialized needs of domestic violence victims and raise community awareness of this serious social problem. The Domestic Violence Unit is now part of DA Conley’s Family Protection and Sexual Assault Bureau and employs six assistant district attorneys, three victim-witness advocates, and two civilian investigators who are all trained and equipped to meet the specialized needs of domestic violence survivors and prosecute their abusers in Suffolk Superior Court. They also work closely with shelters, service providers, and other agencies to help get victims all the resources they need.

Designated prosecutors in the county’s busiest district courts — the Boston Municipal Court’s Central, Dorchester, Roxbury, and West Roxbury divisions, plus Chelsea District Court — track repeat offenders, handle the more serious district court cases and act as liaisons to the Domestic Violence Unit and the community. The chief of the Domestic Violence Unit oversees each of these teams and recommends policy for prosecution of domestic violence cases throughout the office.

Wherever possible, victims work with the same prosecutor, victim-witness advocate and investigator until the case is resolved.  Victim-witness advocates help victims navigate through the court process and assist in crisis intervention, obtaining restraining orders, safety planning and referrals for other services.

Please see the Victim Witness Assistance Program for more information about victim witness advocates.

What is domestic violence?
Domestic violence is a pattern of behavior used by an abuser to maintain power and control over a current or former partner, a relative or a family member. Intimate partners may be married or not married; heterosexual, gay, lesbian or transgender; living together, separated or dating.

Some elements of domestic violence include:

Emotional abuse (“put-downs”, name-calling, humiliation, mind games, treating the partner like a servant);

Isolation (limiting the partner’s activities outside the relationship, controlling who the partner sees or speaks to and where he or she goes);

Financial abuse (preventing the partner from getting a job or controlling all the money);

Threats and intimidation (making the partner feel as though he or she may be physically hurt if the abuser’s demands are not satisfied, including displaying weapons, damaging property or hurting pets) and;

Physical violence, including forced sexual relations.

Generally, domestic violence begins with non-violent behaviors as the abused partner seeks to pull away from the relationship, or assert his or her independence. Once the abuse becomes physical, it generally becomes increasingly violent over time, starting from a slap or a shove and escalating to severe beatings or injuries using weapons, and ultimately, homicide.

The cycle of violence begins with the tension-building phase, in which tension mounts and culminates in an incident of violence. Often, immediately after the violent episode, the abuser is remorseful and promises that no further violence will occur. It is during this “honeymoon” phase that an abused partner may come to forgive the abuser, believe that it will never happen again, and continue the relationship. This phase may then flow into another tension-building phase culminating in an even more violent event and increasing the risk to the abused partner.

Restraining Orders

A restraining order, generally speaking, is a command from a court telling an abuser not to abuse you, not to contact you, and to stay away from you. Violation of the order to stay away from you, not to contact you, or abuse you is a criminal offense, punishable by a fine and up to two-and-one-half years in the House of Correction. The court can also order other conditions, although violations of these orders may not be considered a criminal offense.

Who is Eligible?

You may file a petition for an Abuse Prevention Order against a current or former spouse, current or former household member, the parent of your child(ren), a relative by blood or marriage, or anyone with whom you have had a substantial dating relationship. You can get protection whether or not you are currently living with the abuser.

What Does the Order Cover?

  • No Abuse: the abuser is ordered not to cause or attempt to cause you physical harm, place you in fear of imminent serious physical harm, and not to cause you to engage in sexual relations against your will. This order also applies to your minor children.
  • No Contact: the abuser is ordered not to contact you or your minor children in person, by telephone, mail, e-mail, fax, or through another person.
  • Stay Away: the abuser is ordered to stay away from your home, school and/or workplace. If the abuser lives with you, he must leave the home.
  • Temporary Custody and Support of Minor Children: the court may award you temporary custody of a minor child, and order the abuser to pay temporary support if he is legally obligated to do so.
  • Financial Compensation: the court may order the abuser to pay you financial compensation for losses directly resulting from the abuse.
  • Confidentiality: at your request, the court may order that your home address and the name and address of your or your children’s school and/or workplace be kept confidential so the abuser will not have access to them.

When and Where is the Order Valid?

A restraining order is valid as soon as a judge issues it, but a violation of a restraining order cannot be prosecuted unless the abuser knows about the order. For this reason, when you apply for a restraining order, if the abuser is not present, it is very important that you provide the court and/or the police with any information you have that will help them find the abuser and give him or her the order. If the order is violated, you should also tell the police and prosecutor anything that leads you to believe the defendant knew about the order. Regardless of what court you obtain it in, the restraining order is valid throughout Massachusetts, and in most other states, until the expiration date listed on the order. If you move out of Massachusetts, some states may require you to register the order with your local police department.

How Do I Get a Restraining Order?

During business hours, you can call or visit a representative from the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Victim Witness Advocate program in your local courthouse. A Victim Witness Advocate will help you complete an application for a restraining order and appear with you before the judge. It is important that you include information in your application about where the abuser can be found to make sure police and court staff can deliver the order to the abuser in person. If the judge finds that your abuser has caused or attempted to cause you physical harm or placed you in fear of imminent serious physical harm, the judge will give you a temporary restraining order. The temporary restraining order lasts only ten days, at which time another hearing will be held so that the abuser has an opportunity to be heard.<strong> Keep a copy of the restraining order with you at all times.

During non-business hours – after 5 p.m. on weekdays, or anytime on weekends or court holidays – call or visit your local police station, which will contact a judge who is on call 24-hours a day to help you get an emergency restraining order. The judge may ask to speak directly with you, or ask you to write a statement about why you need a restraining order. This type of restraining order expires on the next day your local court is open for business, so if you obtain this type of order, you will need to go to court the next business day to obtain a temporary restraining order, described above.

The Ten Day Hearing

At the ten day hearing, the abuser has a right to be present and speak to the judge. If the abuser does not appear, the hearing will still be held and the judge may extend the order for one year. You must appear, or the order will automatically be dismissed.

What Do I Do if the Order is Violated?

  • Call the police, tell them you have a restraining order and that the abuser has violated the order. Tell them you need help right away.
  • Take the name of the person you speak to at the police station, as well as the names of the officers who come to your home.
  • Ask the police to assist you and your children until you are safe.
  • Ask the police for assistance with medical treatment, including transportation to a hospital if necessary.
  • Make sure the police write an incident report, even if no arrest is made. You have a right to obtain a free copy of this report.
  • Violation of a restraining order is an arrestable offense. If the abuser has left the area, give police as much information as possible about him so they can find him, including his name, physical description, any addresses he frequents, the make and model of his car and license plate number, and a photograph.

Safety Planning Tips

Leaving a violent relationship can be very difficult and dangerous. Act quickly. Do not tell the abuser you are planning to leave. Leave money and an extra set of keys and other essentials with someone you trust so you can leave quickly.

If you are planning on leaving an abusive relationship, here are some steps to follow:

  • Open a bank account in your own name to establish and increase your independence.
  • Keep shelter and other emergency phone numbers close at hand.
  • Plan a safe place to go in an emergency.
  • Get a cell phone if you don’t already have one, and program “911” into home and mobile phones.
  • Consider getting a restraining order.

What to Take When You Leave

  • Birth certificates, driver’s license and other identification
  • Money, checkbook, credit cards, bank cards, bank books
  • Social security card
  • Welfare/Medicaid/Health insurance cards
  • House and car keys
  • Medications, medical information
  • Address book
  • Passport; or USCIS issued Green Card or Work Permit
  • Divorce, support, custody documents
  • Jewelry and other valuables
  • Deeds to property, insurance documents
  • Clothing, toys, books, toiletries
  • A list of important contact names and telephone numbers that you can access quickly in an emergency.

Safety in Your Home

  • Change the locks on your doors and your phone number. Give the keys and phone number only to people you trust.
  • Buy locks and other safety devices to secure your windows and doors.
  • Discuss alternative safety plans with your children for times when you are home and when you are not home.
  • Inform your children’s school, daycare and babysitter who has and who does not have permission to pick up your children.

Safety on the Job and in Public

  • Tell your friends, family and co-workers about your situation.
  • Arrange to have your telephone calls screened at work.
  • Have a safety plan for when you are at work or school. Arrange to have a co-worker, friend or security guard escort you to your car, bus or home.
  • Be alert to your surroundings.

Safety with a Restraining Order

  • Keep your restraining order with you at all times.
  • Inform family, friends, neighbors, your landlord, your employer and your school that you have a restraining order, and ask them to call police if they see the abuser near your home, work or school.
  • Call the police immediately if the abuser violates the restraining order.

Safety and Your Emotional Health

  • If you are thinking of returning to an abusive situation, first talk with someone you trust about other possible options.
  • If you have to communicate with the abuser, find the safest way to do this. Try to avoid meeting alone. Have a witness, friend, police officer or an attorney present if possible.
  • Be positive and let others help you.
  • Get involved with support groups or counselors in your community.
  • Don’t be embarrassed. You are not alone and you are not at fault.

Tips for Friends and Family of Victims

Gone are the days when domestic violence was considered a “private, family matter.” Today we recognize that domestic violence is a crime, and numerous studies have proven its long-term negative effects on victims and on the children of victims and abusers. As with all other types of crime, prevention and accountability rests with the community.

The most important thing neighbors, friends and family of a victim of domestic violence can do is support the victim. Getting out of an abusive situation is often a complicated and lengthy process, particularly if the victim is financially dependent upon, has children with, or fears the abuser. But keeping the door open for a victim to come to you for help is very important. Tell the victim that no one deserves to be beaten, offer to help in whatever way you can, and keep the lines of communication open so that when the victim is ready to leave, she or he knows there are people she can count on and who will support her or him. Victims of domestic violence often feel very isolated, and the support of others is crucial to maintaining victim safety and to getting out of an abusive relationship. Also, call the police if you see or hear an assault on the victim by the abuser and provide your name and address. It is only by working together as a community that we can successfully combat domestic violence.

Additional Resources

The Suffolk County District Attorney’s office has fostered partnerships with community groups and nonprofit organizations that offer a multitude of services and assistance to victims of domestic violence.


Emergency: 911

Boston Police Department: (617) 343-4200

Chelsea Police Department: (617) 466-4855

Revere Police Department: (781) 284-1212

Winthrop Police Department: (617) 846-1212

MBTA Transit Police Department: (617) 222-1000

Domestic Violence Resources