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What Is Domestic Violence?

Domestic violence is defined in varying, but similar ways, often depending on the system within which it is being applied. For example, a state may have a definition for use in criminal cases or to obtain an order of protection in a civil proceeding. Victim service providers may define domestic violence differently and often more broadly in order to encourage the widest range of victims to seek services and protection. The Office for Victims of Crime (OVA) defines domestic violence generally as follows1:

Domestic violence is a term that covers many types of acts committed by a current or former intimate partner against another, or within a family. It can take the form of physical violence, sexual abuse, emotional or psychological abuse, financial abuse, or other controlling behavior. It can include threats, such as threatening to commit suicide or take the children away from the victim. Victims of domestic violence can be of any age, racial or cultural background, education level, financial level, religion, gender, or sexual orientation.

Domestic violence is usually not a single event and often becomes more severe and frequent over time. Many batterers are not violent in other relationships, such as at work or with friends. They routinely deny that the abuse occurred, minimize its severity, or blame the victim for the abuse.

What are legal options for victims?

Note: This is not legal advice. For individual legal advice, consult an attorney.

Both criminal and civil legal options may be available depending on the facts and circumstances of the individual case.

Criminal charges may automatically be initiated if law enforcement is called to the scene. If law enforcement is not called to the scene or charges are not initiated at that time, the victim may also be able to file a criminal complaint against the person for abusive or threatening behavior. The circuit clerk can explain and where to file the criminal complaint. Contact information for the local circuit court clerk can be found at In addition, the county attorney can advise victims as to their legal rights and how to initiate a criminal action. A list of county attorneys and their contact information can be found at Victims may also contact the Office of Victims Advocacy at (502) 696-5312 or (800) 372-2551 for assistance in determining how to contact their country attorney or circuit court clerk.

A petition for a domestic violence order (DVO) or interpersonal violence order (IPO) may also be an option. These orders, filed on forms provided by the local circuit court clerk, can provide more immediate protection than filing criminal charges and protection while the more lengthy criminal process is ongoing. Often, it is possible to both obtain a DVO or IPO and file criminal charges. However, one is not dependent on pursuing the other.

Information on how to obtain a protective (EPO/DVO or TIPO/IPO) can be found in the brochure from the Kentucky Administrative Office of the Courts here.

Where can victims seek shelter and other victim assistance services?

Regional Domestic Violence Shelters/Programs 2
There are fifteen regional domestic violence programs in Kentucky. In addition to providing safe, secure shelter for victim/survivors and their children, these programs offer a variety of support services to both residents and nonresidents. Domestic violence program staff support survivors by:

  • Accompanying survivors to court, helping them understand their legal options and connecting them to legal resources.
  • Offering individual counseling, support groups and supportive children’s services.
  • Providing case management, safety planning, self-sufficiency planning/services and referrals to other community resources.

A list of these programs, contact information, services available and the counties served by each can be found at Contact information for these programs, as well as information related to safety planning and other services, can be obtained 24 hours a day, 7 days a week by contacting the National Domestic Violence Hotline at (800) 799-7233.

Prosecutor and Law Enforcement Based Victim Advocates
Prosecutor and/or law enforcement based victim advocates are available to assist victims in many of Kentucky’s counties. The focus of their work is primarily to assist victims throughout the criminal justice process, although available services will vary by office. In cases where criminal charges have not been filed or are not being considered, these offices are available for referrals to victim services and other resources within the county, region or state. Information regarding the location of prosecutor and law enforcement based advocates in Kentucky can be found here.

Legal Services
Legal service providers and bar associations may be able to provide free legal advocacy for survivors of domestic violence. Information about Kentucky programs can be found here:

Office of the Attorney General: Office of Victims Advocacy
The Office of Victims Advocacy within the Office of the Attorney General has victim advocates on staff who can answer general questions about domestic violence, the criminal justice process, crime victim rights, etc. and provide referrals to victim resources and services in the caller’s local area. Our advocates also provide notification of court proceedings, accompaniment to court proceedings and attorney interviews, assistance filing for victim compensation and restitution, referrals to community resources, guidance with victim impact statements, etc. in cases prosecuted by the Office of the Attorney General. Our crime victim information line is (502) 696-5312.



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