Behind Closed Doors: An Examination of Domestic Violence in Ohio

October 26, 2021

The Ohio Domestic Violence Network (ODVN) recently released a sobering report on the number of fatalities that were reported in Ohio as a result of intimate partner relationship violence from July 1, 2020 through June 30, 2021 (the “2021 Report”). While the ODVN report focuses solely on deaths as a result of domestic violence, the report also demonstrates an unfortunate, universal truth: domestic violence knows no race, age, sex, sexual orientation, identity, religious, cultural or economic boundaries. It can—and does—happen to anyone.

As October is Domestic Violence Awareness month, it is especially important to amplify this critical issue. This amplification starts not only with understanding just how pervasive intimate partner violence is, both nationally as well as in Ohio, but also requires examining the realities of the same, including how damaging and potentially lethal these incidents can be for victims.

Ohio Domestic Violence Statistics

The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence estimates that approximately 38% of Ohio women and 33% of Ohio men will experience some form of violence, sexual assault or stalking at the hands of an intimate partner during their lifetime. In 2019 alone, the Ohio Attorney General’s Office reported a total of 76,203 calls related to incidents of domestic violence, with over 53% of those calls resulting in some form of charge.

According to ODVN’s 2021 Report, there were 131 intimate partner relationship-related fatalities over 90 reviewed cases in a period of one (1) year in Ohio—specifically, from July 1, 2020 through June 30, 2021. Of those cases, 18% occurred with children at the scene, and 15 of the total fatalities were young victims under the age of 18 years old.

Deaths Resulting From Intimate Partner Violence Rose During Pandemic in Ohio

Troublingly, these recent Ohio fatality statistics demonstrate that there has been a 62% increase in deaths as a result of intimate partner violence in the past two years, and thus, during the pendency of the COVID-19 pandemic. Sadly, this, in many ways, confirms what many Ohio experts and activists in the domestic violence awareness space feared would occur as a result of the isolation and other challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic—in particular, an increase in domestic and intimate partner violence and fatalities as a result of the same.

Legal Options for Domestic Violence Victims in Ohio

Unfortunately, the reality is that, while the legal measures for victims of domestic violence in Ohio can be helpful, they are also imperfect. In part, this is because of the type of legal relief that is, in fact, available to victims—namely, a protection order.

In Ohio, a protection order is a type of court order which can be issued to a victim of domestic violence and potentially other members of his or her household, which sets forth various restrictions on what the accused perpetrator of the violence, on an immediately going forward basis, can and cannot do, including as it relates to the victim and any other protected parties. Typically, these types of restrictions require that the accused perpetrator have no contact with and maintain a designated distance away from the victim and any other protected parties, vacate any shared residence and turn over any firearms, among other common restrictions. Notably, in Ohio, a protection order can be issued in either a criminal or a civil domestic violence matter. However, there are key differences between these orders depending on in which proceeding a protection order is issued.

Criminal Domestic Violence Matters vs. Civic Domestic Violence Matters

A criminal domestic violence matter is initiated when the relevant prosecutor’s office elects to file criminal charges against an accused perpetrator for an act of domestic violence. Ultimately, at the conclusion of a criminal domestic violence matter, the court will be required to determine whether the accused perpetrator is guilty or not guilty of criminal domestic violence, and thereafter, issue sentencing and potentially other orders depending on the outcome. Typically, a protection order issued in a criminal domestic violence matter is known as a Temporary Protection Order (or a TPO) and is usually in effect solely for the life of the criminal domestic violence case. Thus, once the criminal case has concluded, the TPO will usually go away.

In contrast, a civil domestic violence matter must be initiated by the victim of domestic violence. Ultimately, at the conclusion of a civil domestic violence matter, the court will be required to determine whether an act of domestic violence occurred, and thus, whether a protection order should issue. A protection order issued in a civil domestic violence matter is known as a Civil Protection Order (or a CPO) and can be in effect for up to 5 years.

Despite the differences between criminal and civil domestic violence proceedings in Ohio, what is particularly notable is that, in both instances, the main immediate relief available to a victim is simply a piece of paper from the relevant court, dictating what the accused perpetrator can and cannot do on an immediately going forward basis. While additional criminal charges or other serious ramifications may result to the extent that an accused perpetrator violates the terms of a TPO or a CPO, the mere availability of the protection order itself, unfortunately, does not guarantee that the victim will be inherently safe from future violence at the hands of the perpetrator.

Protection Orders: Limitations and Associated Challenges

To be sure, in ODVN’s 2021 Report, of the 90 reviewed cases which resulted in intimate partner relationship-related fatalities in Ohio from July 1, 2020 through June 30, 2021, 20 of the perpetrators involved in the same had previously been charged or convicted of domestic violence. Thus, in nearly a quarter of the cases reviewed in connection with the 2021 Report, a fatality resulted as a result of intimate partner violence, despite the fact that legal relief had already been issued for a prior instance of the same conduct.

Moreover, in addition to the limitations of a protection order, there are other aspects of the legal system which can operate in ways which, unintentionally, create other challenges for victims of domestic violence to receive necessary legal relief. For example, in the civil context, there are inherent evidentiary hurdles for victims imbedded in the legal definition of domestic violence, which can complicate the process to demonstrate that a certain action or series of behaviors constitutes domestic violence. Likewise, in situations involving mutual or reciprocal claims of domestic violence—for example, where both parties have been violent toward each other—the potential rigidity of the law does not always result in the appropriate result when examining these types of circumstances, especially when long-term abuse of one of the parties may have occurred.

Domestic Violence Help and Resources for Victims

Despite these potential challenges, there is a silver lining: help and legal relief for victims of domestic violence is available and accessible. Moreover, the law in Ohio surrounding domestic violence is ever-evolving, both in an effort to resolve the above-described and similar types of challenges for victims, but to otherwise improve the system in order to help better protect victims of domestic violence. This work continues, and it is essential.

If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic violence, there are resources available 24/7 to help. For those nationwide, you can reach the National Domestic Violence Hotline by calling 800-799-SAFE or by going online to their website. For those local to Northeast Ohio, you can reach the Journey Center for Safety and Healing by calling 216-391-HELP or by going online to their website. For those anywhere else in the State of Ohio, you can access the relevant contact information for your locality here.

For questions or guidance on the potential legal relief available to victims of domestic violence, please contact John D. Ramsey (jdr@kjk.com), Janet R. Stewart (js@kjk.com), or another member of KJK Family Law by calling 216-696-8700.