Domestic Violence


A safe, violence-free home is not a reality for many families today. While women, men, children and elders are abused in the home, in our community literally anyone can be a victim of family violence, suffering from physical, emotional or sexual abuse by a partner or loved one. Studies have shown that children who live in violent homes are also at high risk for physical abuse and that nearly all experience emotional abuse by hearing or witnessing the abuse of others.

The Abuse Prevention Law offers protection to both women and men who are physically abused in family or personal relationships. These may include: husband and wife, spouse or partner; girlfriend and boyfriend; high school and college students in dating relationships; children, parents, elders, grandparents, brothers and sisters, housemates, roommates. I hope this information will help you or someone you know seek protection and safety. We hope you will work with the Assistant District Attorneys and Victim/Witness Advocates to hold batterers responsible for their violent behavior through criminal prosecution in our court.


Domestic Violence Definition

Domestic violence or family violence is the abuse of power and control. It is behavior used by one person to control another through force or threats. A batterer makes a choice to:

  • strike
  • hit
  • kick
  • punch
  • threaten 

Domestic violence includes physical and sexual attacks and threats. These violent acts are criminal and the batterer can be prosecuted for committing them. The acts are a means of controlling the victim's thoughts, feelings and behavior. The violence does not lessen over time. The threats and/or beatings generally happen more often with time, last longer and cause greater physical injuries.

Emotional abuse and insulting words are almost always part of the abuse pattern, but are not considered criminal acts. The wounds from these injuries, however, may be more difficult to heal.

Domestic violence is not caused by or provoked by the actions or inactions of the victim. Alcohol or drug abuse, depression, lack of money, lack of a job, mental illness or abuse as a child do not directly cause domestic violence. However, existing problems often create additional stress in a relationship and may increase the risk of violence. Many abusers blame the victim or other things for their violent acts and do not take responsibility for their abusive behavior.


The Legal Definition Of Abuse

Chapter 209A, the Massachusetts Abuse Prevention Act, defines abuse as:

  • actual physical abuse
  • an attempt to harm another
  • placing another in fear of serious physical harm

causing another to engage in sexual relations by force, threat of force or duress

What is a "209A" order?

The 209A Order

An Abuse Prevention Order, called a "209A Order" or a "Restraining Order," is a civil court order that provides protection from physical or sexual harm caused by force, or threat of harm from a family or household member. An Order can be obtained against:

  • a spouse or former spouse
  • a present or former household member
  • a relative by blood or a present or former relative by marriage
  • the parent of a minor child, even if the parents never married or lived together
  • a person involved in a substantial dating relationship with the victim

Victim Witness Advocates are located in the District Attorney's Office of each district court in Barnstable County and at the main office in Barnstable. Please contact any Advocate with questions or concerns regarding a case.

Obtaining a 209A Order

A 209A Order can be obtained in any district, superior or probate and family court in Massachusetts. An emergency 209A Order is available through any police department after court hours and on weekends.

A sworn statement (affidavit) describing the facts of a recent or past incident(s) of abuse is required on the application or complaint form for a 209A Order. It is also important to provide information about the abuser, such as work address, telephone, birth date and social security number.

Court Orders Under c. 209A
The court can order the abuser to:

  • stop or refrain from abuse
  • have no contact with the victim
  • vacate and remain away from a house or workplace
  • order medical costs and property damage payments, if needed 

The court can also award temporary support and custody of minor children to the victim.

What happens next?

After you have completed the 209A application form, return it to the clerk and ask when the court will hear the restraining orders. They will tell you the time and courtroom location for the hearing.

At the hearing, the Judge will ask why you need restraining order protection and will review your application forms and affidavit. In some courts, a "209A Briefing Session" is held before the hearing and a Court Advocate will explain the hearing process and be with you in the courtroom.

What will the Judge do after speaking with me?

The Judge may grant or deny the 209A order after speaking with you. If the Judge approves the request, you will receive a Temporary Order for up to a ten-day period. This means a court date will be scheduled within 10 business days for you to return to court for a Permanent Order.

If the order is denied, it is essential to work with the advocate to prepare a safety plan. The advocate may refer you to a domestic abuse program to discuss possible options (i.e. shelters, housing, public assistance, etc.).

Please keep your copy of the order with you at all times

The police will deliver (serve) a copy of the 209A order to your abuser and will keep a duplicate on file at the police station. It is important to provide the police with the abuser's current home and work addresses so they can serve the order.

More about the hearing

The Ten Day Hearing requires that you return to court on the date given on the order, or the order will not be in effect after that date. The hearing offers the chance for both parties, you and the abuser, to come before the Judge and offer information (evidence) as to why a permanent 209A order should or should not be granted. Bring any hospital records, photographs or police reports you may have for the Judge to review. You may also bring a support person with you. The abuser may be present at the ten-day hearing and may oppose the 209A order. If the abuser is not present and has been served with the order, the Judge can still grant the order for up to one year.

What happens at the end of a year?

If a 209A order is issued by the Judge for a year, you must return to court for another order at the end of that year or it will be dismissed. Any changes in the order before that date must be made by a Judge with both you and the abuser appearing in the same court where the order was first given. A request to change or amend the order can be made at the Clerk's Office.

Can a minor obtain a 209A?

A person under age 18, can obtain a 209A order with some restrictions. Generally, a parent or guardian needs to be present, but the Judge can decide to issue a limited 209A order if the minor appears to be in danger. In some cases, the Department of Social Services may offer assistance in gaining help for a minor. Many high schools and colleges also offer support groups for students in violent relationships.

What if the order is violated?

Violation of the Order

Once a 209A Order is issued, violation of its terms is a criminal offense and police officers must arrest if they believe or can see that the terms of the Order were violated.

If the abuser violates the Order, call the police immediately. Show the Order to the police and explain how it was violated; for example: a punch, slap, threat, entering the house or apartment or refusing to leave, or any contact at home, the workplace, by telephone, mail or in person.

The abuser is subject to arrest if any contact with the victim is made, even if the victim initiates the contact. The court can modify or vacate the Order on request.

Following Arrest

Once an arrest is made and/or a criminal complaint is issued, the abuser will be charged with the crime or crimes at an arraignment proceeding in the district court. The judge will determine whether the defendant/abuser will be held in jail until trial or released on bail with specific conditions, such as, a 'no contact' order. If the defendant is released from custody, the court must make a reasonable effort to notify the victim.

The Victim Witness Advocate is available to explain the charges and the court process. Victims are provided with on-going emotional support, information, case updates and referrals for services throughout the time the case is in court.

The Assistant District Attorney represents the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the victim's interests in prosecuting the case.

The Arraignment

It is important to provide the following information to the Assistant District Attorney before the arraignment and bail request:

  • the history of the abuse
  • a description of the most recent abuse incident
  • any pictures or hospital records of the injuries
  • the location of any guns or other weapons the abuser might possess 

The Assistant District Attorney will bring all of this information to the attention of the Judge, along with the safety concerns and fears of the victim. The Judge may also consider whether the defendant is dangerous and a threat to the victim or the community.

Dangerousness Hearing

In certain cases, a Dangerousness Hearing may be requested by the Assistant District Attorney to hold the defendant in pre-trial detention without bail. There is a high standard of proof required to show dangerousness, as there must be "clear and convincing proof" that releasing the defendant would be a substantial risk to the safety of the victim and/or the community.

Pre-trial Considerations

Interviews are held before the trial date to gather information and evidence for prosecution. The safety needs of the victim and any involved children are a priority in bringing the case to trial. Prosecution may provide the means to gain batterer's intervention services for the defendant and increased safety for the victim, as the court can require the abuser to complete a certified batterer's intervention program for Violation of a 209A Order. Very few batterers seek help on their own without court orders and probation supervision.

The Assistant District Attorney will consult with the victim and explain the sentence recommendation. If the defendant is found guilty or pleads to a guilty finding, the judge will give a sentence that may include drug or alcohol counseling, supervised probation and/or jail time, in addition to batterer's intervention.

What is a batterer's intervention program?

Batterer's intervention programs provide services in very strict group settings that help batterers learn to accept responsibility for their violence, as well as, understand and change their controlling and abusive behavior.

The groups are led by certified batterer's intervention counselors trained in dealing with domestic violence offenders. The programs are based in community mental health or counseling centers and work with the courts and battered women's services to make sure that partners of batterers remain safe. The programs involve weekly, two-hour group sessions for a minimum total of 80 hours. Most programs also add a 4 to 6 week introduction period at the beginning. Group leaders feel your safety is a priority concern and will keep ongoing contact with you.

Will intervention stop the abuse?

There are no guarantees that the violence will stop because the abuser attends a Batterer's Intervention Program. Many abusers drop out of programs or do not comply with the requirements; but, if the Judge requires attendance as part of a sentence, dropping out may mean the abuser will have to serve jail time. The abuser must want to change the abusive behavior. Promises to change, flowers and apologies are not enough. You deserve to be safe and free from abuse.

Will I still be at risk?

The most dangerous time for a person is when he/she is leaving the batterer. The person responsible for the abuse may feel he/she is losing control and become dangerously angry. Taking steps to protect yourself from abuse may cause the abuser to retaliate against you.

Please trust your instincts. If you are afraid something may happen, take your personal feelings seriously and protect yourself. You know the situation better than anyone else.


Risk of Harm and Safety

The most dangerous time is when the victim is leaving the batterer. The batterer may feel a loss of control and become dangerously angry. Taking steps to protect yourself from abuse may cause an increase in the level or type of abuse or punishment from your abuser. Please trust your instincts and protect yourself. You know your situation better than anyone else.

Suggestions for Protection

Develop a safety plan that includes an escape plan for you and your children should a violent incident occur. During an incident, try to move away from the kitchen area where access to weapons might increase your risk.

Call the police or leave the house as soon as possible after an abusive incident. The police will respond and stay with you until you are in a safe place and help you seek medical treatment. If you feel you are in danger, dial the police number or 911 and hang up before it rings; the redial button will automatically call the police if you need them quickly.

Be alert when leaving the courthouse. If you have any reason to believe your abuser may be waiting for you, please ask someone in the District Attorney's Office or a Court Advocate to ask for a police escort.

Guns or weapons can be ordered turned over to the police by the judge, along with a license to carry the guns and FID card. The police can also search for and take custody of a gun or weapon if you request it and give them permission to search your home.

Consider changing the locks on your home. The judge can order the abuser to turn over the keys to your home and/or your car. Keep an extra set of keys in a safe place.

Inform your neighbors if a 209A Order is in place. Encourage them to call the police if they see or suspect something is wrong.

Make copies of important papers and keep them in a safe place. Make a list of the things you need to take with you (birth/medical records, marriage license, check and bank books, credit cards, medications).

Keep emergency money and extra clothes for yourself and your children in a safe place or with someone you trust. Include a few toys and favorite things for the children.

Keep the victim service agency number handy for emergency shelter and for support groups. You do not have to leave the abuser or have a 209A order to attend the support groups.

Information and support in making decisions is important.

Get medical attention as you may be injured much more seriously than you realize. Go to a hospital emergency room or to your private doctor as soon as possible for treatment. Ask for a copy of the treatment record.

Have pictures taken of your injuries and bruises at the hospital, police department, shelter or District Attorney's Office.

What to Do if You Are in an Abusive Relationship

Coping with an abusive relationship is very challenging, since the very nature of the situation leaves the victim isolated and feeling worthless. It is important for victims to know that they are not alone and that under no circumstances is abuse acceptable.

A first step for a victim of abuse is to talk to someone who understands the problem. There are many agencies that provide free, confidential assistance to people in abusive relationships. Services often include counseling, support groups, safety planning, legal assistance, shelter/housing and help with filing a restraining order.

It is important to understand that it takes time and often several attempts to get out of an abusive relationship. Leaving can be a dangerous time for victims; however, there is hope and support available.

The Victim Rights Law

District Attorney Michael O'Keefe's Victim Witness Services Program provides information, assistance and referral resources to crime victims, their family members, and witnesses as mandated by Massachusetts General Laws, chapter 258B, The Victim Rights Law.