Domestic violence is the term used to refer to harmful behavior between family or household members. It includes child abuse, spousal/domestic partner abuse and elder abuse. Domestic abuse encompasses both actual and threatened physical harm, sexual abuse, and emotional or psychological abuse. Often, multiple forms of abuse are perpetrated in the same household.
An adult victim of abuse has several options. He or she can file criminal charges, file a civil suit seeking damages or seek a restraining order or order for protection against the perpetrator of the abuse. An order for protection prohibits the abuser from continuing the abuse. A victim of abuse must petition the court for such an order. It is helpful if the petitioner has physical proof of his or her claims, such as bruises, medical records or photographs. If the victim is in immediate danger, an "ex parte" order may be issued without requiring the alleged perpetrator to appear. In all other cases, there will be a court hearing, at which a judge will hear the matter and decide what action is in the best interests of the parties and any minor children involved. If a court order is violated, the police may remove the abuser from the home and charge him or her with criminal offenses.
Although many people think of domestic abuse in terms of abuse by one spouse or domestic partner upon the other, another form of adult abuse, elder abuse, is much more common than generally realized. Abused older persons (often parents or grandparents living under the same roof with younger generations of the family) have the same rights as other victims of domestic violence. Adults of any age who are vulnerable because of a physical or mental disability are also entitled to the same protections.
The intentional failure to provide necessities, such as food, clothing, and shelter, for the elderly and other vulnerable adults is considered neglect. Certain professionals who encounter adults they suspect may be suffering abuse or neglect have a legal obligation to report their suspicions. A report made in good faith will not subject the reporter to any legal liability.
Child abuse can take many forms. Neglect occurs when the responsible parties fail to provide the child with basic necessities or fail to protect them from imminent and serious harm. Physical abuse is any physical or mental injury that is inflicted or threatened to be inflicted on the child by a responsible party. Sexual abuse occurs when any person in a position of authority over the child subjects the child to sexual contact. Even prenatal exposure to controlled substances, other than for medical reasons, can constitute child abuse. As with elder abuse, certain persons, who by virtue of their professions come into contact with children they suspect may have been abused, have a duty to report their suspicions. Many states have centralized reporting stations, available through toll-free telephone numbers, to which suspicions of abuse may be reported.
Domestic violence and neglect, whether perpetrated on a child, a spouse or partner or an elderly or other vulnerable adults, is a grave problem with serious, long-term consequences. A lawyer experienced in dealing with abuse issues can help a victim get the protection to which he or she is entitled.
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