Batterers are master manipulators who know and use all kinds of techniques to intimidate their partners in order to prevent them from reporting abuse to law enforcement. One such technique that a perpetrator might use is to threaten to sue the abused intimate partner in civil court for defamation or libel if he or she reports the abuse.
This technique is referred to as a strategic lawsuit against public participation or SLAPP. The idea is that the abuser threatens a lawsuit knowing his or her partner does not have the time, money or access to resources to fight a court battle. And, if the abused partner believes that this is true, he or she may decide against reporting the abuse out of fear of having to deal with another court case or to suffer monetary damages.
“What it comes down to is that the abuser will try to sue the victim of domestic violence for reporting the domestic violence. It is abusive litigation,” says David Ward, legal and legislative counsel at Legal Voice, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the legal rights of women. “The abuser tries to use the court system to further harass, coerce, intimidate and terrorize the survivor. Unfortunately, we see it not infrequently. There are abusers who will try to retaliate against victims in any way they can.”
Fortunately, legislatures are recognizing and addressing this intimidation technique and passing laws against these types of lawsuits. Twenty-eight states, along with the District of Columbia, have anti-SLAPP laws on the books: Arizona, Arkansas, California, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont and Washington. Other states may have anti-SLAPP protections in place that are not in the form of specific legislation.
The wording of anti-SLAPP laws varies by state. “Generally, they affirm that a domestic violence victim cannot be sued in a civil court for reporting an issue that’s of interest to a government agency,” Ward says. “Anti-SLAPP laws protect you from what you say in the court room in [the instance of] a criminal case.”
Anti-SLAPP laws do have one drawback: They do not prevent frivolous cases from going to court. They only offer a defense once the case is in court.
“You still have to go through the court system, meaning you will still need to hire an attorney,” Ward says. “But the good news is that if the case is found to be barred by anti-SLAPP laws, you have the right to be reimbursed for your attorney’s fees.”
Are you getting ready for a domestic violence court case? Proving physical abuse is one thing, but what about other types of abuse? Check out this article on “How to Prove Nonphysical Abuse in Court.”
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