Emotional Abuse: A Crime? You Must Be Kidding!!

For many years, emotional abuse has often been present in domestic relationships, whether it be in the context of marriage or family relationships as they may concern parents and children or, possibly, as it concerns the care of an elderly relative. Emotional abuse may be difficult to determine, but is no less harmful than physical abuse. It is a very tangible injury that occurs to individuals who are often subjected to either many short-term incidents or a more gradual long-term series of incidents that can be verbal or physical in nature, or a combination thereof.

Wisconsin has recognized emotional abuse as a possible criminal act, and has codified it in the Wisconsin Statutes as it concerns the emotional abuse of a domestic partner, elderly individual or a family member – especially a child.

Actually, emotional or mental abuse has been a part of the Wisconsin statutory structure for a significant period of time. Wis. Stats. §813.125 "Harassment restraining orders and injunctions" defines "harassment" as "[E]ngaging in a course of conduct or repeatedly committing acts which harass or intimidate another person and which serve no legitimate purpose." This certainly would include emotional abuse.

Additionally, Wis. Stats. §813.12 "Domestic abuse restraining orders and injunctions defines domestic abuse as a threat to engage in intentional infliction of physical pain, physical injury, intentional impairment of physical condition, sexual assault, stalking or criminal damage to property. Clearly, this would also fall under the definition of emotional abuse. Dependent upon who engages in such conduct could cause the conduct to fall within the guidelines of this statute.

Child abuse may also encompass emotional abuse, and could be the subject of a hearing to grant a child abuse restraining order under Wis. Stats. §813.122. In addition and not surprisingly, restraining orders for "individuals at risk" (i.e. elder adults or individuals with physical or mental health challenges) under Wis. Stats. §813.123 encompasses mental or emotional abuse as a basis for obtaining a restraining order. Further, Wis. Stats. §948.04 concerns any individual who exercises temporary or permanent control of a child and causes mental harm to that child, or any individual who is responsible for the welfare of a child and has knowledge that another person has caused, is causing or will cause mental harm to that child, yet fails to take action to prevent such harm to the child. Any individual who causes such mental harm or fails to take action to prevent such harm is guilty of a Class F felony.

It is also a crime to engage in conduct that would subject an individual at risk to emotional abuse, as defined in Wis. Stats. §46.90(1)(cm). Under that statute, emotional abuse is defined as language or behavior that serves no legitimate purpose and is intended to be intimidating, humiliating, threatening, frightening or otherwise harassing to the individual to who the conduct or language is directed.

Wisconsin law contains many statutes that criminalize actions that could constitute emotional abuse. We simply want to alert you to the fact that physical abuse is not the only act that could result in an injunction and/or possible criminal charges. Emotional abuse – whether a single act or a series of acts – could also subject an individual to criminal liability. If you are experiencing this type of situation, please reach out and seek help through the many agencies in Waukesha County and throughout the state that can provide caregivers relief, respite care or other intervention to assist them in handling the situation.

At Bucher Law Group, LLC, we are well-versed in the many aspects of emotional or physical abuse. Should you find yourself in this type of situation, please do not hesitate to contact us. We are ready to assist you.