By Kayla Woody, CPN House of Hope Prevention Specialist
Reoccurring abuse from an intimate partner, better known as domestic violence, affects nearly half of all Oklahomans each year. For someone experiencing that abuse, documenting what is going on might feel like the last thing that you would want to do. It can be hard to remember or even put your experiences into words. Sometimes warning signs aren’t always obvious. However, documenting abusive events when you spot them can validate abusive experiences and serve as a critical tool in taking legal action with criminal charges, divorce or even child custody.
Why is it important to document?
Evidence is the moving force for our legal system. It is necessary to establish relevance and proof. When abuse occurs in intimate partner relationships, it likely happens behind closed doors with no one present other than the victim and perpetrator. It’s a “he said, she said” situation that is difficult to prove in a court of law who is truly at fault. Allegations and claims won’t get you very far. Abusers even use legal strategies to perpetrate abuse and manipulate the system into believing their narrative.
Credible, verifiable, well-documented evidence is what stands best in a courtroom. When domestic violence occurs, documentation can be the difference between a perpetrator being held accountable or not.
According to WomensLaw, in most states, evidence can include (but is not limited to) the following:
- Verbal testimony from you or your witnesses
- Medical reports of injuries from the abuse
- Pictures (dated) of any injuries
- Police reports of when you or a witness called the police
- Household objects torn or broken by the abuser
- Pictures of your household in disarray after a violent episode
- Pictures of weapons used by the abuser against you
- A personal diary or calendar in which you documented the abuse as it happened
What to document?
When in an intimate partner relationship, it can be challenging to identify and distinguish between typical relationship behaviors and control and manipulation. If your partner is physically violent, it is a clear sign, but emotional or verbal abuse is more subtle and complicated.
There are many different ways that you can obtain information about the abuse you are experiencing, but it is important that the collected material is stored safely. Some great ways to document abuse include:
Visiting the doctor — Your doctor or health care provider can be a safe resource for disclosing abuse. Most medical staff are trained on how to assist victims experiencing abuse.
- Ask a loved one to document — Ask family to write down what they see in your relationship, ask coworkers to log reoccurring calls, let friends hold your evidence in safe keeping.
- Times, dates, locations — Create a log of incidents that happen with time, date and where it happened. This is extremely important with stalking situations.
- Take pictures — Take pictures of injuries and damage to residence, vehicle or property.
- Create police reports — Call your local police department’s non-emergency number and find out about the protocols and procedures of filing a police report. Reports can create a paper trail of abuse.
- Let it go to voicemail — Repeated calling and text messages can also be another way to prove abuse. Voice mail and even call logs can be used.
- Save digital evidence — Social media posts can contain evidence of emotional and verbal abuse. It is important to print off the evidence because it can be removed.
Where to store the documentation?
It is crucial that all documented material be kept safely away from the abuser. If the information were to be found that could mean serious implications for the victim. Physical abuse could be a consequence as well as destruction of the documentation.
It is recommended to store the documentation where the abuser does not have access. Paper documents could be kept at work or with trusted friends or family members. Digital items could be kept on a phone that the abuser does not have access to or possibly does not know about. These could also be saved on small storge devices like thumb drives or hard drives.
If files are kept on digital devices, they can be saved on mislabeled folders and locked with passwords. Consider storing information on password-protected cloud services, like Dropbox or Google Drive.
If you’re not sure if documenting your abuse would be safe, always trust your gut. You are the expert on your situation, and no one knows how to keep you safe better than yourself. What works for one person may not be a safe idea for another person.
If you or someone you know is experiencing stalking, intimate partner violence, and/or sexual assault and would like more information, please contact the House of Hope at 405-275-3176 or visit us online at facebook.com/cpnhouseofhope.