Zero Tolerance Domestic Violence Laws

When I teach my anger management class, I encounter class participants who have never before been in trouble with the law, but nevertheless now find themselves court ordered to be there. Due to several domestic violence incidents which resulted in severe injury and even death, more and more towns, cities and states are enacting zero tolerance domestic violence laws — and more and more partners are finding themselves in situations they never imagined they would be in.

Suppose a couple gets involved in an argument. The argument becomes more and more heated, and they engage in a full-blown shouting match. A neighbor hears the shouting, feels uncomfortable, and calls the police. The police show up. If a zero tolerance law is in effect, the police must arrest someone, and sometimes arrest both people — regardless of the fact that neither has touched the other physically, and regardless of the fact that neither party has pressed charges. Zero tolerance domestic violence means tolerance for no form of domestic violence. And, shouting is a form of domestic violence.

So, one or both parties find themselves embarked on a journey they did not anticipate: getting charged with an offense; having to obtain legal counsel, either through the public defender’s office or privately; appearing before a judge; receiving a sentence, usually through a plea deal, and usually involving attending anger management classes for anywhere from eight to twenty-six weeks. All this involves time and money. In my anger management classes, 100% of participants acknowledge that the incident that brought them to class started over “something stupid,” and if they had managed their anger differently they would have saved themselves, their partner and their family a lot of hardship.

The next time you feel the urge to let loose with a torrent of angry words, whether you are in the privacy of your own home or driving down the street in your car, be mindful that your behavior might precipitate a call to the police by a concerned citizen. Stop shouting. Stop talking. Take a breath. If you can leave the vicinity, tell your partner you need to leave for a half hour, and go for a walk. Calm down. Think about your own contribution to the problem, not how wrong your partner is. Develop a plan for approaching your partner peacefully when you return. If you were arguing about an issue that needs resolution, table it until the two of you can talk calmly about it.

You have a choice whether or not to get caught up in the zero tolerance net.

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