Mounting evidence suggests that COVID-19 is contributing not only to a rising health crisis, but it is having a rising impact on domestic violence. Given the current shelter in place orders, victims of domestic violence are being isolated with their abusers in an unprecedented way. Oftentimes, the financial stress of economic uncertainty adds to the pressure cooker of abusive households. When there are children in the home, they may inevitably either witness the abuse of a parent, or may be victims of abuse themselves. At the same time, domestic violence shelters are struggling to remain open and finding safe havens amid hotel closures and other social distancing restrictions is more difficult than ever.
In Illinois, victims of abuse have options to help. Although courthouses throughout the state are operating under restrictions, they all have policies in place to hear emergency orders of protection under the Illinois Domestic Violence Act (750 ILCS 60/) (“DVA”) on an emergent basis.
Under the DVA, the term “abuse” not only includes physical abuse, but also includes harassment and interference with personal liberty. In addition, even if your children have not themselves been physically abused, they could be entitled to protection if they have witnessed your partner's abusive behavior towards you.
An experienced family law attorney will be able to advise you on whether or not you should seek an order of protection and what remedies are available to you, which may include exclusive possession of your home, prohibiting your abuser from taking your child from you or out of the state, barring access to your child’s records, or requiring your abuser to turn his/her weapons over to law enforcement. If you are a pet owner, the DVA has provisions for the protection and allocation of animals so that victims do not remain in dangerous situations because they are afraid for their pets. The DVA is a powerful tool for victims and there are numerous remedies available in an order of protection.
With very limited exceptions, your private conversations and communications with an attorney are protected by attorney-client privilege. This means that even if you decide not to proceed with seeking an order of protection, or if you choose to hire a different attorney, the things you communicate in an attorney consultation cannot be disclosed to anyone. (If you tell your attorney that you intend to commit a crime or fraud, or you intend to further a crime or fraud by covering it up, that communication may not be privileged.) So, you need not worry that your abuser will discover from your attorney either that you have sought legal advice or what that consultation was about.
Additionally, an emergency order of protection can be obtained on an ex parte basis. This means that it can be obtained without notice to your abuser if, as is true in many cases, you are afraid that notice to your abuser would likely result in further abuse or endangerment. Under the DVA, an emergency order of protection can remain in effect for up to 21 days and a plenary order of protection can last for up to two years.
If you believe that you or someone you know is an abuse victim, know that they are not alone. The first step is for them to speak to an attorney as quickly as possible. Consultations can take place over the telephone or through video conference to maintain social distancing. Hopefully, you can find an experienced and compassionate attorney who can help you before your situation worsens. Most importantly, however, is not to delay seeking advice as judges may consider the time that elapses between when the alleged abuse occurred and when the victim sought help as a factor in their decision.
If you are a victim of abuse and you cannot afford an attorney, you can still get help in Illinois by calling the Illinois Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-877-863-6338. In April, the Illinois Department of Human Services announced the launch of a $1.2 million plan to increase the capacity of its current statewide network of services for survivors during the COVID-19 pandemic.