State and Federal Domestic Violence Laws in the United States
last updated August 2013
Federal Laws
In 1994, the U.S. government responded to the nationwide issue of domestic and sexual violence by enacting the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), designed to improve both victim services and arrest and prosecution of batterers. VAWA 1994 fostered community-coordinated responses to domestic violence and sexual assault (engaging the criminal justice system, social services, and NGOs), created a national domestic violence hotline and allocated substantial funds for a number of different kinds of initiatives and programs, including shelters and other services for battered women, judicial education and training programs, and programs to increase outreach to rural women.[1] VAWA not only reauthorized STOP grants, which support programs designed to improve law enforcement and prosecution response to domestic violence, but also mandated that domestic violence advocates be involved in the planning and implementation of these programs.[2] VAWA also reauthorized funds for Victim and Witness Counselors, who work with domestic violence victims in federal prosecutions, provided protections for battered immigrant women, and established federal penalties for interstate domestic violence and sexual assault crimes.[3]
In the 2000 reauthorization of VAWA, Congress expanded the scope to include crimes of dating violence and stalking, created a legal assistance program for victims, and established U- and T-visas for battered immigrants to allow them to remain in the U.S. (part of the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Prevention Act).[4]
The 2005 reauthorization of VAWA provided further protections for immigrants; increased funding for victim outreach, assistance and prevention efforts; made it unlawful to evict a victim of domestic violence or stalking from federal housing on the basis of their status as a victim; and developed violence prevention strategies.[5]
VAWA 2013 expanded housing protections to include additional federally-subsidized housing programs not included in the 2005 reauthorization, provided additional protections for students and immigrant survivors, and reauthorized critical VAWA grant programs.[6] For more information on VAWA, including grant programs, see the U.S. Department of Justice Office on Violence Against Women.
In addition to VAWA, Congress, in 1996, enacted the Domestic Violence Offender Gun Ban (commonly referred to as “the Lautenberg Amendment”).[7] This act bans the shipment, transfer, and ownership of guns and ammunition by persons convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence or persons under a restraining or protection order for domestic violence.

State Laws
Most domestic violence laws in the U.S. are state laws. provides access to all state, federal, and tribal statutes related to domestic violence as well as an overview of the types of protections available to victims. Addition resources include the Institute for Law and Justice’s 2004 survey[8] of U.S. state laws on domestic violence, including laws that affect prosecutor and police policies, and the Battered Women’s Justice Project’s report on Enhanced Penalties Statutes (2005), which describes the different kinds of enhanced penalties for domestic violence that have been enacted in different states in the United States.[9]
The following are examples of state domestic violence laws.
Domestic Abuse Act, Section 518B.01 of Minnesota's statutes, creates a civil remedy of an Order for Protection (OFP), designates the procedures that must followed in applying for and granting an OFP, and describes the kind of relief that can be granted. For example, the Act sets forth the circumstances under which an ex parte order may be granted and requires that a hearing be held within ten days after the issuance of such an order. The Act also describes penalties for violations of both OFPs and No Contact Orders, orders issued against a defendant in criminal proceedings for domestic violence, and describes how law enforcement officials should enforce such orders. In addition, the Act includes a number of provisions that facilitate victims' access to the legal system. For example, the Act waives the filing fees for orders of protection and provides that an individual filing for an OFP may request that his or her address not be disclosed to the public.
Section 609.2242 of Minnesota's statutes criminalizes domestic violence. Under this law, an individual commits the crime of domestic assault by causing another to fear immediate bodily harm or death, or inflicting, or attempting to inflict, such harm. Penalties are increased when the perpetrator has previously committed one or more domestic assaults within a certain period of time.
Minnesota has also enacted a domestic violence arrest law, Section 629.341,that allows officers to arrest an individual without a warrant if there is probable cause to believe that the individual has committed domestic abuse, and that requires officers to provide victims of domestic violence with notice of their legal rights.
Section 629.342 of Minnesota's statutes provides that police departments must develop policies and protocols for dealing with domestic violence, and explicitly requires police officers to assist victims in obtaining medical treatment and providing the victim with a notice of his or her legal rights.
Section 609.2247 of Minnesota’s statutes makes assault on a household or family member by strangulation or asphyxiation a felony punishable by up to three years imprisonment.
New York:
New York State's
Domestic Violence Prevention Act (2004) created a comprehensive network of services for victims of domestic violence. The Act requires social services districts to offer emergency shelter and other services, including advocacy, counseling and referrals. The Act requires shelters that receive funding under its provisions to maintain a confidential address and also mandates that other government agencies keep such addresses confidential. In 2009, New York barred employment discrimination against victims of domestic violence (As of 2012, it was only one of six states which had recognized victims of domestic violence as a protected class in employment provisions[10]). In addition to this protection, the state makes unemployment benefits available for victims of domestic violence whose job has been affected because of the violence.[11]
New York State's law on warrantless arrest (Criminal Procedure section 2.20) permits localities to establish mandatory arrest regulations or policies. The state's law on criminal procedures for family offenses (Criminal Procedure section 530.11) directs officers investigating "a family offense" under that provision to "advise the victim of the availability of a shelter or other services in the community" and to "immediately give the victim written notice of the legal rights and remedies available to a victim of a family offense." This law provides an example of the kind of information an officer might give to a victim, and mandates that the notice be prepared in multiple languages if necessary.
New York State also passed a law creating an Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence. The Office is charged with advising the governor and legislature "on the most effective ways for state government to respond to the problem of domestic violence" and to "develop and implement policies and programs designed to assist victims of domestic violence and their families, and to provide education and prevention, training and technical assistance." The Office’s website includes summaries of New York State domestic violence and related laws.

Chapter 209A
of the General Laws of Massachusetts provides for the issuance and enforcement of OFPs, the confidentiality of the victim's address, and the abuser's surrender of weapons. Section 7 of Chapter 209A requires judges to conduct searches of a defendant's record "to determine whether the named defendant has a civil or criminal record involving domestic or other violence," sets forth the warning about penalties for violation of an OFP that must be provided to the batterer, and details the kinds of communications that, when a batterer has been sentenced to a batterers' intervention program, should occur between the program, battered women's shelters, the court, and the probation office for the purpose of ensuring victim safety and batterer accountability. Treatment for substance abuse may be ordered "[i]n addition to, but not in lieu of" batterers' intervention programs. Finally, this provision requires the defendant to pay the victim restitution for damages in the case of a violation of a restraining order issued by another jurisdiction.

[1] Garrine P. Laney, CRS Report for Congress, Violence Against Women Act: History and Federal Funding (2005), accessed August 8, 2013,
[2] Ibid. at CRS-4.
[3] Ibid. at CRS-2,8.
[4] “Violence Against Women Act (VAWA): 10 Years of Progress and Moving Forward,” National Domestic Violence Hotline, accessed August 8, 2013,; William A. Kandel, CRS Report for Congress, Immigration Provisions of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) (2012), accessed August 8, 2013,
[5] “Violence Against Women Act (VAWA): 10 Years of Progress and Moving Forward,” National Domestic Violence Hotline, accessed August 8, 2013,
[6] Ibid.; Office on Violence Against Women, VAWA 2013 Summary: Changes to OVW-Administered Grant Programs, accessed August 7, 2013,
[8] Neal Miller, Domestic Violence: A Review of State Legislation Defining Police and Prosecution Duties and Powers (2002), accessed August 8, 2013,
[9] Eve Zamora, Enhanced Penalties for Domestic Violence 2005 (2005), accessed August 8, 2013,
[10] Bryce Covert, “In all but six states, you can be fired for being a victim of domestic violence,” Think Progress, June 30, 2013,
[11] New York State Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence, Unemployment Benefits for Domestic Violence Victims: Frequently Asked Questions, accessed August 8, 2013,