Until recently, legal fictions, social prejudices, and criminal justice apathy and ignorance combined to define domestic violence as a nonevent. Society's tolerance for domestic violence has significantly waned in the past decade, however. New laws in many states now criminalize abusive behavior that was accepted, if not necessarily approved, 15 years ago.[fn1] Among the more significant advances in criminal law relating to domestic violence are (1) the adoption of antistalking laws in 50 states where there were none in 1989; (2) repeal or limitation of many (but not all) states' spousal exemption laws in rape cases; and (3) passage of new spousal battery laws that provide unique penalties in spousal assault and battery cases (see a list of some state coalitions).

Other laws reform the criminal process to make arrest and prosecution of abusers easier. For example, every state now permits warrantless arrests in domestic violence cases subject to a police officer's determination that probable cause exists to believe domestic violence occurred.

Civil protective law to protect abused spouses and other family members have become integrated with the criminal law to augment the protections offered by the civil laws. In most states, violation of a court order of protection is a crime, in some a felony, in others a misdemeanor. Police officers are authorized to arrest order violators without a warrant, based on a determination of probable cause. Similarly, advances in information technology used by criminal justice agencies, such as state-wide law enforcement computerized criminal record communications systems, now improve police communications for enforcing civil law injunctions.

Many states have also updated their civil protective laws providing for court injunctions against domestic violence. These changes include broadening the category of persons who may seek court protection to include non-married couples and eliminating the need for victims to pay court fees to invoke the protection of the court.

Finally, new training mandates ensure that police, prosecutors, and judges will be better informed about the social and personal costs of domestic violence and how they can best act to reduce such incidents.  Much of this has been stimulated by the Federal Violence Against Women Act.


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