Family, or domestic, abuse usually involves violence committed against either a child or a spouse, most commonly a wife. Both types of violence, of course, are prohibited under Illinois law.
Child abuse. In our culture, parents are given wide latitude to raise their children as they sit fit, although not near as wide as they once were. In order to protect children, Illinois law attempts to define the point at which the state will step in between the parent and the child. This can be an extremely difficult point to define.
When the state steps in, it can (1) order the parents to get parental training or counseling, (2) remove the child from the home and place him or her either in a relative's home or in foster care, or (3) in extreme cases, terminate the parental relationship and place the child for adoption.
One thing to remember is that when we speak of child abuse, we are speaking not only of physical abuse, such as hitting the child, but mental abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, creating an injurious environment, and parental unfitness. Even physical abuse is not always clear-cut. At what point, for example, does spanking a child become physical abuse? Illinois prohibits "excessive" corporal punishment, which has been defined as intentionally or recklessly injuring a child.
Mental abuse is harm done to a child?s psychological capacity or emotional stability. It can include yelling or screaming at the child or denying the child basic rights, such as the right to play with friends, threatening a child with a gun, or putting the child in a closet for a prolonged period.
Sexual abuse is inappropriate contact, such as touching or fondling the child's intimate parts, whether the child is clothed or naked. It can also include activities that don't involve touching by the parent, such as involving the child in prostitution or pornography.
Neglect is the failure to supply the child with basic needs, such as food, clothing, shelter, and medical care. It can also include putting a child in a dangerous situation, such as leaving a child in a parked car with the windows closed on a hot day. The courts usually grant fairly wide latitude where the reason for taking a particular course of action is grounded in religion or religious belief. In fact, the Illinois rules specifically provide that a parent is not guilty of medical neglect if he or she is following religious beliefs.
Injurious environment exists where the child is forced to live in deplorable conditions, but it is a form of child abuse that doesn?t necessarily involve direct harm against the child. Two examples of injurious environment are creating unsanitary living conditions and spousal abuse (usually father abusing the mother).
Child neglect or abuse has received widespread publicity in recent years, which has meant a higher vigilance by the courts and the child welfare authorities. Even so, in practice they don't typically step between the parents and the child except in extreme cases. They are much more willing to intervene than in years past, but they still won't do it unless there is clear evidence of child endangerment.
Spousal abuse. Domestic violence is defined by Illinois law as physical abuse, harassment, interference with personal liberty, willful deprivation, or intimidation of a family or household member. It includes both physical abuse and mental or emotional abuse. It does not require that the spouse actually be hit or struck.
Protecting yourself. If you have been abused, you have several options. One is to go to the police and file criminal charges. In some cases, filing criminal charges will be sufficient. If you feel that you need additional protections, the next step is to contact a lawyer to discuss further steps.
Before you contact a lawyer, however, you should document the abuses. Write down, with as much specificity as possible, when the abuses took place, what was said, and what the abuse involved. If possible, have a friend or family member take pictures of any physical proof of injury, such as bruises. Locate a picture of the abuser, if possible. Get copies of any medical records that were made as a result of treatment for injuries at the hand of your abuser. Take these documents to your lawyer.
One step you and your lawyer may take will be to file for an order of protection, which would be filed in the county court where the abuser lives. If granted, the order forbids the abuser from harming you again. You should provide your local police with a copy of the order.