Domestic Violence

Massachusetts General Laws Definition of Domestic Abuse
Types of Abuse
Warning Signs of Abuse
HUPD Response
Frequently Asked Questions
Myths about Domestic Violence



Domestic violence is any of the following behaviors: physical, sexual, economic and emotional abuse, alone or in combination, by an intimate partner often for the purpose of establishing or maintaining power and control over the other partner. The HUPD takes reports of domestic violence very seriously and each report will be investigated fully. In any domestic violence situation, the safety of the victim and any involved children is paramount.

Domestic violence occurs in heterosexual, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender relationships. Whether the victim is male or female, violence of any kind in relationships is unacceptable. Domestic violence affects people from every age, racial or ethnic background, religious group, neighborhood, and income level.

If you are in immediate danger and need help or want to speak to a specially trained officer about your situation, call the Harvard University Police Department at 617-495-1212.

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Massachusetts General Laws Definition of Domestic Abuse

The Massachusetts General Laws define domestic abuse as the occurrence of one or more of the following acts between family or household members:

  1. Attempting to cause or causing physical harm
  2. Placing another in fear of imminent serious physical harm
  3. Causing another to engage involuntarily in sexual relations by force, threat or duress

Family or household members are defined as persons who:

  1. Are or were married to one another;
  2. Are or were residing together in the same household;
  3. Are or were related by blood or marriage;
  4. Have a child in common regardless of whether they have ever married or lived together; or
  5. Are or have been in a substantive dating or engagement relationship, which shall be adjudged by district, probate or Boston municipal courts in consideration of the following factors:
    1. The length of time of the relationship;
    2. The type of relationship;
    3. The frequency of interaction between the parties; and
    4. If the relationship has been terminated by either person, the length of time elapsed since the termination of the relationship.

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Types of Abuse


Physical Abuse
  • slapping
  • punching
  • kicking
  • use of weapons or throwing objects
  • denial of physical needs (food, sleep, medical attention)
Sexual Abuse
  • non-consenting sexual acts/behaviors
  • use of force (including threats/weapons)
  • “guilt-tripping” partner into having sex
  • degrading or sexually attacking comments aimed at partner
  • any touch that is unwanted
Emotional Abuse
  • blaming partner for everything that goes wrong
  • controlling what partner does, wears, reads
  • limiting contact with family and friends
  • threats of future abuse
  • tells children, family or friends lies about partner
Economic Abuse
  • control of assets, car, credit cards
  • refusal to let partner get a job
  • puts bills in partner's name, then runs up charges
  • refusal of access to money, food, clothing and other basic needs

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Warning Signs of Abuse

Check this list of warning signs to help answer the question: Am I Safe? These behaviors may indicate that you or someone you know is suffering from an abusive relationship.

Are you with someone who.....

  • Is jealous and possessive toward you, won't let you have friends, checks up on you, and won’t accept breaking up?
  • Tries to control you by being very bossy, giving orders, making all the decisions; doesn't take your opinion seriously?
  • Is scary? You worry about how they will react to things you say or do? Threatens you, uses or owns weapons?
  • Is violent: has a history of fighting, loses temper quickly, and brags about mistreating others?
  • Pressures you for sex, is forceful or scary around sex? Thinks of you as a sex object? Attempts to manipulate or guilt-trip you by saying "If you really loved me you would....." Gets too serious about the relationship too fast?
  • Abuses drugs or alcohol and pressures you to take them?
  • Blames you when he mistreats you? Says you provoked him, pressed his buttons, made him do it, and led him on?
  • Has a history of bad relationships and blames the other person for all the problems?
  • Believes that men should be in control and powerful and that women should be passive and submissive?
  • Has hit, pushed, choked, restrained, kicked, or physically abused you?
  • Your family and friends have warned you about or told you they were worried for you safety?
  • If you are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, has threatened to “out” you to family, friends, or co-workers if you don't comply with certain demands?
  • If you are an immigrant, has threatened or tried to turn you in to authorities and get you deported?

If you answered "YES" to any of these questions in thinking about yourself or someone you know, help is available. You can call an advocate at a local program or contact any of the following people if you feel safe doing so:

  • the staff at a domestic violence or sexual assault program
  • a police officer
  • a member of your family
  • a teacher or school counselor
  • your friends or their parents
  • your priest, minister or rabbi
  • a doctor or nurse
  • people in court - the district attorney or victim witness advocate
  • another adult you trust

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HUPD Response

An HUPD officer who has reason to believe that a family or household member has been abused or is in danger of being abused must:

  1. Remain on the scene a reasonable time to prevent further abuse.
  2. Assist the abused person in obtaining medical treatment – by driving the person or obtaining transportation.
  3. Assist the person in locating and getting to a safe place.
  4. Give the abused person a written copy of his/her rights, reading it in English and, whenever possible, in the victim's native language.
  5. Activate the emergency judicial response system when the court is closed for business in order to assist the victim in applying for a restraining order. Inform the victim that the abuser, if arrested, is eligible for bail and may be promptly released.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is a vacate order? 
A vacate order may include a household, a multiple family dwelling, or plaintiffs workplace. (The presiding justice must consider whether the parties work in the same location or for the same employer.) A vacate order orders the defendant to:

  • Leave and remain away from the premises.
  • Surrender forthwith any keys to said premises.
  • Not damage any of the plaintiff’s belongings.
  • Not shut off or cause, to be shut off any utilities or mail delivery to the plaintiff. Not interfere in any way with the plaintiff’s right to possess, such premises, except by court order.

Where can a valid restraining order (209A order) be issued? 
A 209A order may be issued by the superior, probate and family, district or municipal court departments of the trial court having venue over the plaintiff’s residence. When the petitioner is in a dating relationship, only the district, probate, or municipal courts may issue an order.

If the plaintiff has left a residence or household to avoid abuse, the plaintiff has the option of filing the order at the court having venue over the prior residence or at the court having venue over the new residence.

If you are in immediate danger and need help, call the Harvard University Police Department at 617-495-1212.

If you are a victim of abuse and need treatment or referral, call toll-free: SafeLink, a Massachusetts statewide multilingual, 24-hour service hotline at 1-877-785-2020. Visit the Massachusetts Office for Victim Assistance at or Jane Doe Inc. at for more resources on domestic violence.

What relief can an abused person obtain from the courts? 
A person suffering abuse from an adult or minor family or household member may request protection including:

  • Ordering the defendant to refrain from abusing the plaintiff
  • Ordering the defendant to refrain from contacting the plaintiff, unless authorized by the court.
  • Ordering the defendant to vacate and remain away from the household, multiple-family dwelling or workplace. (An order to vacate shall not exceed one year. At the expiration the court may ex-tend the order upon motion of the plaintiff for an additional year.)
  • Awarding the plaintiff temporary custody of a minor child.
  • Ordering the defendant to pay temporary support for the plaintiff and or any child in the plaintiff’s custody or both. Often he has a legal obligation to do so.
  • Ordering the defendant to pay compensation for the losses suffered as a direct result of the abuse including: loss of earnings, restoring utilities, out-of-pocket for injuries sustained, replacement for locks or property removed or destroyed, medical or moving expenses, and reasonable attorney fees.
  • Ordering the plaintiff’s firearms to be impounded.
  • Ordering the defendant to refrain from abusing or contacting the plaintiff’s minor child, or child in plaintiff’s care or custody, unless authorized by the court.

How long does a restraining order last? 
The court may issue an immediate temporary (ex-parte) order as it deems necessary to protect the plaintiff from abuse, then must issue immediate notice to the defendant. The ex-parte order will be in effect until the return hearing (no later than 10 business days). At the 10-day hearing the plaintiff may request that the order be extended. The court may issue an order for up to one year.

What if the abuser does not attend the return hearings? 
If the plaintiff appears for the return hearing, and the defendant does not appear, the court shall continue the order without further notice to the defendant.

May the court refuse to issue an order? 
The court may deny an order for lack of jurisdiction, or if a person is not a family or household member, or if it deems the allegations do not constitute abuse. 
The court may not refuse to extend an existing order solely because abuse has not occurred during the pendency of that order. 
The court may not deny an order solely because it was not filed within a particular time period after the last incident of abuse.

Is mediation appropriate in 209A cases? 
Parties may choose to utilize mediators, but courts shall not compel parties to mediate any aspect of their case. Family service or victim/witness personnel may be used for information gathering purposes, but parties shall not be forced to meet together.

May the courts issue mutual restraining orders? 
The court may issue mutual restraining orders only when accompanied by specific, written findings of fact. Such orders shall be sufficiently detailed and specific so police can enforce them.

Suspension and surrender of firearms license and firearms 
Upon issuance of a temporary or emergency order, the court shall order the suspension and surrender of any license to carry firearms and or firearms identification card which the defendant may hold and shall order the defendant to surrender all firearms, rifles, shotguns, and machine guns with ammunition which he then controls or owns, in accordance with the provisions of this chapter. A suspension and surrender order shall continue so long as the restraining order is in effect.

Can a victim obtain protection when the court is closed? 
An emergency response system judge may grant orders by telephone to a law enforcement agency-who shall record the order and deliver a copy to the clerk magistrate or the court having jurisdiction on the next business day.

What if the victim obtains a 209A and then goes on to file for divorce, annulment, paternity, custody, support, guardianship, or separate support? 
Any custody or support judgment issued in the subsequent hearings shall supersede custody or support orders under 209A. (Note: The family and probate court can modify orders granted by a district court.)

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Myths about Domestic Violence

Myth: When a couple is having a domestic violence problem, it is just that they have a bad relationship. Often, it's poor communication that is the problem.

Fact: Bad relationships do not result in or cause domestic violence. The idea that bad relationships cause violence in the home is one of the most common and dangerous misconceptions about domestic violence. First, it encourages all parties involved-including and especially the victim- to minimize the seriousness of the problem and focus their energies on "improving the relationship" in the false hope that this will stop the violence. It also allows the abuser to blame the bad relationship and the violence itself on the victim, rather than acknowledging his/her own responsibility.

More importantly, improving the relationship is not likely by itself to end the violence. Violence is learned behavior. Many couples have had bad relationships yet never become physically violent. Many batterers are violent in every one of their relationships, whether they consider them bad or good. The violent individual is the sole source and cause of the violence, and neither his/her partner nor their relationship should be held responsible.

Myth: Most domestic violence incidents are caused by alcohol or drug abuse.

Fact: Many people have alcohol and/or drug problems but are not violent; similarly, many batterers are not substance abusers. How people behave when they are "under the influence" of alcohol and/or drugs depends on a complex combination of personal, social, physical and emotional factors. And like many other types of behavior, alcohol- or drug-affected behavior patterns are culturally learned.

It is often easier to blame an alcohol or drug abuse problem than to admit that you or your partner is violent even when sober. Episodes of problem drinking and incidents of domestic violence often occur separately and must be treated as two distinct issues. Neither alcoholism nor drugs can explain or excuse domestic violence.

Myth: Domestic violence is often triggered by stress, for example, the loss of a job or some financial or marital problem.

Fact: Daily life is full of frustration associated with money and work, our families and other personal relationships. Everyone experiences stress, and everyone responds to it differently.

Violence is a specific learned and chosen response to stress, whether real or imagined. Certainly, high general levels of domestic violence can be related to social problems such as unemployment; however, other reactions to such situations are equally possible. Some people take out their frustration on themselves with drug or alcohol; some take it out on others with verbal or physical abuse.

Myth: Most domestic violence occurs in lower class or minority communities.

Fact: Domestic violence occurs at all levels of society, regardless of social, economic, racial or cultural background.

Researchers and service providers have found, however, that economic and social factors can have a significant impact on how people respond to violent incidents and what kind of help they seek. Affluent people can usually afford private help - doctors, lawyers and counselors - while people with fewer financial resources tend to call the police or other public agencies. These agencies are often the only available source of statistics on domestic violence, and consequently, lower class and minority communities tend to be overrepresented in those figures, creating a distorted image of the problem.

Myth: The victim did something to provoke the violence.

Fact: No one deserves to be beaten, battered, threatened or in any way victimized by violence. Batterers will rarely admit that they are the cause of the problem. In fact, putting the blame for the violence on the victim is a way to manipulate the victim and other people. Batterers will tell the victim, "You made me mad" or "You made me jealous" or will try to shift the burden by saying "Everyone acts like that." Most victims try to placate and please their abusive partners in order to deescalate the violence. The batterer chooses to abuse, and bears full responsibility for the violence.

Myth: Most batterers simply lose control during violent incidents and do not know what they're doing.

Fact: If batterers were truly out of control, as many claim to be during violent incidents, there would be many more domestic violence homicides. In fact, many batterers do "control" their violence, abusing their victims in less visible places on their bodies, such as under the hairline or on the torso. Furthermore, researchers have found that domestic violence often occurs in cycles, and every episode is preceded by a predictable, repeated pattern of behavior and decisions made by the batterer.

Myth: There are just as many cases of "husband battering" as wife battering, even if they aren't reported.

Fact: Relatively few cases of heterosexual men being battered by women show up in police records, clinics or anonymous random surveys. The overwhelming portion of adult victims of domestic violence are current or former wives, partners, girlfriends or lovers of the batterer.

Myth: Domestic violence is a less serious problem - less lethal - than "real" violence, like street crimes.

Fact: It is a terrible and unrecognized fact that for many people, home is the least safe place. Domestic violence accounts for a significant proportion of all serious crimes - aggravated assault, rape and homicide. Furthermore, when compared with stranger-to-stranger crime, rate of occurrence and levels of severity are still underreported for domestic violence.

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For more information about services for domestic violence victims throughout Massachusetts call SAFELINK, the toll-free 24- hour statewide domestic violence hotline at 1-877-785-2020 or visit Jane Doe Inc

Additional resources:

Massachusetts Office for Victim Assistance

National Domestic Violence Hotline

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