Please note: Entries within this blog may contain references to instances of domestic abuse, dating abuse, sexual assault, abuse or harassment. At all times, Break the Cycle encourages readers to take whatever precautions necessary to protect themselves emotionally and psychologically. If you would like to speak with an advocate, please contact a 24/7 peer advocate at 866-331-9474 or text “loveis” to 22522.
One threatening text may not be enough for someone to realize it’s abuse, but multiple and repeated threatening texts are a pattern of behavior. The same goes for emails, phone calls, voicemails, and messages online. And often, when abuse happens digitally or verbally, it can escalate to something physical. Documenting abuse can not only identify the red flags, but it can help a person take steps to stop future abuse, as well as prepare someone if they decide to take legal action. Here are five important ways to document abuse in a relationship:
Write it down. Journals are a great way to keep track of what’s going on. Always write down the date and time of each incident, and record any incident of abuse. If someone saw the abuse happen, write down what bystanders said. Was anything broken? Was something thrown or used as a weapon? Were there any injuries? It doesn’t matter if they’re minor or if any of it seems unimportant. Write it all down — it could become very important later.
Document digital abuse. Online messages, texts, emails, and phone calls are often a source of ways for abuse to continue beyond physical or verbal altercations. A partner may even admit to abuse in a message this way. However, digital evidence is often deleted, whether by accident or not, so it’s important to take screengrabs as well as print out all texts, emails, phone calls and lists of messages with evidence.
Go to your doctor. If there has been any kind of physical abuse, seek medical care. Even if there are no visible injuries, it does not mean there was no harm done. More than ever, health care professionals are trained to recognize signs of abuse. They, along with health care providers, can be safe resources. Ask them about safe ways they can note the abuse, like writing the cause of injury without going directly to police.
Store evidence safely. Anything documented should be kept in a secret and safe place that only you or a trusted person could find. Get creative — think of different ways to keep all files, photos, journals, and more out of the abuser’s hands. Make a new email address that’s only used for documenting abuse, like uploading photos from your phone. Use password protected online journals to write everything down, and change the password regularly. Be sure to memorize any passwords so they’re not written down and potentially accessible.
Ask for help from someone trusted. Does a friend, family member, co-worker, or neighbor know what’s going on? Are they willing to help? They can be instrumental in by assisting in other ways. For example, they could hide a journal of notes, or have backups of digital abuse files. That said, do not mention anything like your secret hiding place to these people via text, phone, or email — the abuser could be monitoring all forms of communication, and the secret could get out.
Remember that each state has different laws about what evidence can be used in court, so it’s best to speak with a legal advocate about your specific situation. While one state may be fine with verbal testimony, another may insist on medical reports of injuries from abuse.
Are you or someone you know struggling with how to document abuse? Talk to one of our peer advocates by calling 1-866-331-9474 — we’re here to help.