According to the health experts at Virginia Commonwealth University's Institute for Women's Health, even though emotional abuse isn't a criminal offense in Virginia, it still hurts. Emotional abuse may be a part of a larger abusive pattern that is indeed against the law.
Knowing Virginia laws connected with emotional abuse will help you protect yourself, your family and your friends.
Emotional Abuse Defined
Advocates at the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance define emotional abuse as mistreating and controlling another person through insults, giving orders, making unrealistic demands or saying things to confuse him. Such abuse, they say, may be disguised as caring, but in reality it's a form of control. In Virginia state law, especially with reference to child abuse, the term "mental abuse" is used synonymously with emotional abuse. Physical or sexual abuse as well as neglect often accompany emotional abuse.
Emotional Abuse and Prosecution
Even though emotional abuse isn't a criminal offense, Robin Sax, author of "A Complete Idiot's Guide to the Criminal Justice System," says it's usually easy to prosecute. This happens when evidence implicates an abuser in an offense that's punishable by law. Still, when the abuse involves a child or someone else dependent on the care of another, such as an elderly person or someone with a mental disability, a caretaker could be charged with and convicted of abuse or neglect because of emotional abuse alone.
Signs of Emotional Abuse
Criteria that Virginia prosecutors use to determine whether a child or adult has been a victim of abuse include the abused person displaying a substantial change in behavior, emotional responsiveness or cognition. The child or person would show signs of depression, anxiety, withdrawal from others and aggression. Prosecuting these cases could be difficult, because the abused person might be reluctant to testify against the abuser. Abused elders might not be physically capable of accusing their abuser because of stroke, dementia or other ailments.
Officials from the Virginia attorney general's office note that some acts of emotional abuse are explicitly illegal, such as stalking, torturing pets or making threats. In these cases, filing charges against the abuser should offer quick and lasting protection. They also say that a domestic abuse victim’s best protection from further abuse, especially if threats of serious physical harm are involved, may be in filing a protective order. Obtaining counseling or enrolling in a treatment program may also help protect your emotional dignity and restore your emotional health. The organization Prevent Child Abuse Virginia offers resources especially for children who've suffered from emotional abuse.
- Institute for Women's Health: Love Shouldn't Hurt
- The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Criminal Justice System; Robin Sax
- Richard F. Gibbons, P.L.C.: Child Abuse
- Virginia Attorney General's Office: Domestic Violence
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