This National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, we’re examining legal tools such as orders of protection that can protect victims from abuse or escalating violence. These can also help financially protect them from ongoing financial abuse. 

Domestic violence is often misunderstood. It is a pattern of behaviors used by one partner to maintain power and control over another partner in an intimate relationship, according to the National Domestic Violence Hotline. This means that domestic violence goes beyond physical or verbal abuse and it can involve a number of behaviors that seek to control, manipulate, intimidate or threaten a person.  

The Illinois Domestic Violence Act also recognizes that domestic violence can occur outside romantic intimate relationships, affecting family members or members of the same household. Under the state law’s definition, it is defined as abuse by a family or household member. A family or household member can be a spouse, former spouse, parent, children, stepchildren and other persons related by blood, a person who share or formerly shared a common dwelling, a person who has or allegedly has a child in common, a person who shares or allegedly shares a blood relationship through a child, a person who has or has had a dating or engagement relationship and a person with disabilities and their personal assistants and caregivers.  

People experiencing domestic violence do not have to endure abuse from a family member or caregiver, even when they have children together.  

Recommendations for victims of domestic violence 

Victims of domestic violence are not alone. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, each year in the U.S. more than 10 million people – women and men – have experienced some kind of physical abuse by an intimate partner. That includes shoving or slapping, which many don’t realize is a form of domestic violence. More than 20,000 calls come in daily to dedicated hotlines.  

There are many national and local organizations that can provide help, including counseling, relocation, shelter, legal aid, financial aid and other services.  

Whether or not someone is ready to ask for help, it is important to keep a detailed records of incidents and evidence of abuse. This evidence will be very useful if the victim decides to seek court protection, said Loren Gutierrez, managing attorney for the Safety and Family Group at the Legal Aid Society of Metropolitan Family Services. The legal group helps families and victims of violence obtain specialized legal representation and assistance in cases of domestic violence, family law and cases when a victim requests an order of protection as part of a criminal case. 

“Even if you don’t call the police or even if you don’t [immediately] go to court, keeping track of what happened – the dates, locations, specifics of the incident, bank records is incredibly helpful” Gutierrez said.  

Safely saving evidence like clothing, damaged property or pictures of injuries and damage is also important according to the Office of the Illinois Attorney General. 

Orders of protection: What they are and how to get them 

Orders of protection keep victims – also referred to as survivors – of domestic violence safe, Gutierrez said. 

“Those are the court orders that help someone when they are being abused,” Gutierrez said. From 2014 to 2022, the group provided extended legal services for 701 West Side cases. About 68% were domestic violence cases where victims initially wanted help getting an order of protection and 30% of the cases were divorce or family law cases.  

Despite claims that they don’t work, research shows that when they’re implemented fully, they significantly reduce abuse and violence. 

Orders of protection are available to family or household members to restrict a perpetrator of violence from contacting a survivor, showing up at the survivor’s residence, school, workplace and other locations and continuing to physically or verbally abuse, threaten or intimidate a survivor of domestic violence, according to the Office of the Illinois Attorney General.  

“A court order is supposed to stop abuse and that allows the victim to have a court enforceable or a police enforceable order to help stop it,” Gutierrez said.  

Violating an order of protection is a misdemeanor and the perpetrator could go to jail and face fines. A second violation of an order of protection can be a felony. 

Orders of protection can also be used to require the perpetrator of violence to appear in court, attend counseling and protect property, including removing their access to a victim’s financial resources.  

When the perpetrator of violence and the survivor have children in common, orders of protection can help establish temporary legal custody, visitation rights and child support. Often, orders of protection are requested in divorce cases involving domestic violence. 

 “People might think that someone is using the court system to keep their other partner away from the children,” Gutierrez said. Instead, they are designed to keep survivors and their families safe, she said.  

“We have a lot of clients who actually want to co-parent with the other person and that order protection is really just there to keep them safe while they’re doing that,” she said.  

 It also helps to set legal terms for custody and visitation, protecting the children’s and parents’ rights.  

Orders of protection can be requested even if an arrest wasn’t made. Victims of domestic violence can seek help from domestic violence shelters or other service providers or they can directly visit the local circuit court clerk’s office to request an order of protection. They can also be filed by an attorney in civil courts, as part of a divorce case or as part of a criminal trial for abuse.  

Where to get help 

If you experience physical, verbal, financial or emotional abuse, intimidation, threats or harassment from a family member, partner or caregiver, you can get help 24/7.  

Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE. English and Spanish services are available, as well as help in other languages through interpretation. Help via text is available by texting START to 88788.  

To get legal help, call the Legal Aid Society of Metropolitan Family Services at 312-986-4105. The group also has an office at the domestic violence courthouse at 555 W. Harrison St., where victims can seek emergency orders of protection and be connected to wraparound services provided by Metropolitan Family Services. 

If you or your family are in immediate danger, call 911.