Domestic violence and how to get help

Also in
Show Endnotes
Massachusetts Law Reform Institute

"Domestic violence" is when a family member or intimate partner abuses another family member, household member, or intimate partner. There are many different forms of abuse. Massachusetts law usually defines domestic violence or abuse as when someone:

  • harms you physically,
  • tries to harm you physically,
  • makes you afraid that serious physical harm is going to happen to you, or
  • threatens, pressures, or forces you to have sex.

Your intimate partner can be someone you date or used to date, be married to, have children with, etc.



Call 911 if you are in danger right now.

If you are not in immediate danger, you can call SafeLink at 1-877-785-2020.

Jump to more resources below.


What is Domestic Violence?

Does the abuse have to be physical, like hitting or punching?

Domestic violence is not limited to physical abuse. Abuse includes many ways that your partner, or family, or household member might use to control or take power over you. For example:

  • Physical abuse: pushing, shoving, hitting, biting, kicking, throwing things at a person, using a weapon, forced sex or touching, rape, choking;
  • Isolation: keeping you from seeing people; controlling who you see and talk to; wanting to control where you are all the time;
  • Emotional abuse: calling you names; putting you down; playing mind games; humiliating you in public;
  • Economic abuse: taking your money; making you ask for money; controlling all the money;
  • Sexual abuse: treating you like a sex object; forcing you to have sex or do sexual things when you don't want to;
  • Using children: using parenting time or visitation as a way to harass you; pumping the children for information about you; insulting you in front of the children;
  • Threats: saying they will take the children; telling you that you will never see the children again; threatening to hurt you; threatening to report you to DTA or DCF; threatening to hurt your family; threatening to hurt themselves;
  • Insisting on being in charge: treating you like a servant; making the big decisions;
  • Intimidation: using looks; hurting pets; destroying your property.

The "Power and Control Wheel" and the "Equality Wheel" made by the Duluth (Minnesota) Abuse Intervention Programs give more examples of abusive and non-abusive behavior. The examples on these wheels might help you think about your situation.

I feel so alone. Are many people in this situation?

Anyone can experience domestic violence. Domestic violence impacts people of all age groups, genders, and sexual orientations. Domestic abuse is a serious public health threat. Thousands of people are abused by their partner, ex-partner, or other family member every year.

Is domestic abuse a crime?

Some forms of domestic abuse are crimes. For example, physical violence and forced sex are crimes. It is also a crime if your partner threatens to use physical force against you or your children. Other forms of domestic abuse may also be crimes.

Can a judge order the abuse to stop?

You can go to court to ask for orders to protect you from further harm. These court orders are sometimes  called “Abuse Prevention Orders,” “restraining orders,” and “protective orders.” Most of these orders are issued under the authority of Chapter 209A of Massachusetts General Laws, and the orders are sometimes called “209A” orders.

See 209A Restraining Orders to learn more.

What if I am afraid my children are being abused?

Some types of child abuse are:

  • making a child witness domestic violence,
  • sexually assaulting a child, or
  • physically assaulting a child.

Some forms of child abuse are crimes. See Criminal Complaints for more information about reporting crimes.

The Department of Children and Families (DCF) can also get involved with your family if there are concerns about protecting your children. "Mandated reporters" are people who have a responsibility to file a report with DCF if they think children were hurt by a caregiver or if the children witnessed their parent being abused. See the Department of Children and Families section for more information about this.

If you think you might need a restraining order to protect your children from abuse, see How can a 209A Restraining Order protect my child?

Learn about keeping your children safe during parenting time or visits with their abusive parent.

How can I get help to stop the violence?

Talk to someone

If you can, talk to someone about what to do to stop the abuse, keeping your children safe, or how to leave an abusive relationship safely.

See the information on Jane Doe, Inc.'s Find Help page, including a directory of Massachusetts domestic violence programs and a downloadable map.

See also the state's page "Court Resources for Safety and Support." It has lists of programs that can help with domestic violence, sexual assault, criminal matters, children, and pets.

You can also call SafeLink, a 24-hour multilingual statewide hotline, to speak to an advocate. It is free and confidential. Advocates are always available just to listen. You can call them just to talk about your situation, even if you aren't ready to take any steps to leave a relationship. SafeLink also connects people to available shelter beds in the state and helps with safety planning.

  • 1-877-785-2020
  • TTY: Dial 711, then ask to be connected to the hotline (1-877-785-2020).
Make a plan

A Personalized Safety Plan helps you think ahead about things like:

  • What you can do to protect yourself when the other person gets violent.
  • How to leave quickly and where you can go.
  • If you live separately from your partner, how to protect yourself if they try to find you.
  • How to stay safe on the job, at school, in public; and
  • How to use the courts to help keep you safe.

See a sample Personalized Safety Plan you can use.

You can find more information about Safety Plans from the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

Get legal advice

You may be able to get legal advice for free. Visit the Massachusetts Legal Resource Finder (in English and Spanish).

Find out about education programs for your abusive partner

In a criminal case, the court can order your partner to get treatment at an “Intimate Partner Abuse Education Program” or to get alcohol or drug treatment.

These programs are all different. Massachusetts Department of Health and Human Services has a webpage about Intimate Partner Abuse Education Program Services where you can find the phone numbers and addresses of programs in your area.

If your partner is in a program, the program may contact you. You do not have to agree to anything they suggest. If your partner is violent, it means that they have a problem and need to be willing to change.

Learn more about Intimate Partner Abuse Education Programs.

Resource Boxes
More Resources
Who to call for help with domestic violence
DV - Who to call for help

Call 911 if you are in danger right now.

If you are not in immediate danger, you can contact:

See Jane Doe's list of Massachusetts domestic violence programs and court resources for safety and support.

Get help applying for a 209A
DV Help applying for 209A


Was this page helpful?