This section includes specific information for D.C. victims of domestic violence. Specialized resources are available to those facing domestic violence, stalking, or harassment, even if they choose not to file a police report against their abuser.
Under D.C. law, domestic violence includes “intimate partner violence” and “intrafamily violence.”
Intimate partner violence is when a crime is committed or threatened by a person against their spouse, domestic partner, or someone they are in a romantic, dating, or sexual relationship with.
Intrafamily violence is when a crime is committed or threatened by a person against someone they are related to by blood, adoption, legal custody, marriage, or domestic partnership, or against someone they have a child with.
For urgent or emergency police and medical assistance, call 911. If you do not want to call the police but still need immediate assistance, call or text the D.C. Victim Hotline at 1-844-4-HELPDC (1-844-443-5732), or visit dcvictim.org for online chat. Either the police or the hotline can connect you to an advocate who can discuss options that may be available to you, including emergency shelter.
Obtaining a Civil Protection Order (CPO)
Many victims of domestic violence choose to obtain a Civil Protection Order as a first step because they can be obtained without a police report or initiating criminal procedures. D.C. crime victims should contact the D.C. Victim Hotline at 1-844-4-HELPDC (1-844-443-5732) to be connected with an advocate who can help them obtain a Civil Protection Order. Below is information about the three types of Civil Protection Orders available in the District of Columbia. A Civil Protection Order is different from a criminal “stay away order” issued by judges to a defendant during a criminal trial. Click here for more information about stay away orders. Different protection mechanisms are available for college students who have been sexually assaulted. Students should contact their university for more information about these protections.
Types of Civil Protection Orders
Temporary Protection Order (TPO)
This is a court protection order that covers the interim period after the petition for a Civil Protection Order is filed and before the hearing where a judge determines whether to grant the Civil Protection Order. Any victim seeking a Civil Protection Order is issued a Temporary Protection Order on the same day the petition for a Civil Protection Order is filed.
Civil Protection Order (CPO)
This is a court order, signed by a judge, instructing a person to stop threatening, approaching, or even contacting a victim for up to a year. Violation of this order can result in a criminal contempt of court charge. Civil Protection Orders last for one year and can be extended for another year if the victim requests the extension before the original Civil Protection Order expires.
Emergency Temporary Protection Order
This is a court order issued outside of normal court hours in the event that a victim is in imminent danger. This order lasts for five days and must be initiated through D.C. SAFE. This process will also involve MPD and the Office of the Attorney General for the District of Columbia.
To obtain a Civil Protection Order, a victim must file a petition at the Domestic Violence Intake Center, which has one location at D.C. Superior Court and another at United Medical Center in Southeast D.C. Click here for more information. Victim advocates are available to assist with the petition and discuss options for serving the court papers on the person from whom protection is sought (the “respondent”). A Civil Protection Order will not be ordered unless the notice about the hearing is properly served on the respondent within 14 days (unless an extension is granted). If the respondent agrees to the proposed order, then the judge will grant it. If the respondent does not consent, the matter will go to a hearing before a judge, who will decide whether to grant the petition. If the judge does not grant the Civil Protection Order, a victim should speak with the court clerk or call 1-844-4-HELPDC (1-844-443-5732) for more options.
When issuing a Civil Protection Order, the judge can order a person to:
- Stop the abuse (including hurting or threatening the victim);
- Stay away from the victim and their children (temporary custody of children can be awarded to the victim);
- Move out of a shared residence;
- Stop contacting the victim by any means;
- Attend counseling for substance abuse or anger management;
- Surrender firearms; or
- Comply with any other conditions specific to the situation.
What if a Person Violates a Civil Protection Order?
A respondent who continues to stalk, harass, or abuse the victim, or violates any other terms of the order, is ignoring an order from the court, which is a criminal offense. If the respondent violates the Civil Protection Order, the victim can call the police and/or file a motion for criminal contempt of court. Either the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia or the Office of the Attorney General for the District of Columbia can prosecute the violation. If they choose to prosecute, an attorney from one of these offices will contact the victim to discuss the case. Sometimes these cases are resolved by the respondent accepting a plea deal, where the respondent pleads guilty in exchange for a reduced sentence. Other times, cases are criminally prosecuted and decided through a trial. The victim may be required to testify at the trial, in which case the prosecutor will meet with the victim first to help prepare the victim to testify.
Safety Issues at the Victim’s Residence
Victims of domestic violence can submit a written request to their landlords to change their locks and are also allowed to break their leases on a D.C. apartment if they feel unsafe at their residence after the crime. To break a lease, victims should give their landlords a letter with notification that they are terminating the lease in 14 days due to domestic violence. Attached to this letter should be a letter from a victim advocate, a police officer, a doctor, or a D.C. Housing Authority representative that attests the tenant is a victim of domestic violence, or a copy of a Civil Protection Order if the victim has obtained one. Victims of stalking or sexual assault should consult with their advocate or the Victim Legal Network
(202-629-1788) about options with regard to their residence.
Financial Assistance for Domestic Violence Victims
Domestic violence victims may face unexpected expenses as a result of the crime committed against them. Victims can apply for financial assistance from the D.C. Crime Victims Compensation Program, although such compensation is not guaranteed and is limited to certain items and amounts set by D.C. Superior Court, which administers the program. Domestic violence victims who seek a Civil Protection Order are eligible for these funds even if they choose not to report the crime to the police. Click here for more information about the D.C. Crime Victims Compensation Program.
Domestic violence victims who receive benefits through D.C.’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program may be eligible for specialized services and resources through the Program on Work Employment and Responsibility (POWER), including exemption from TANF’s work requirements.