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Q: Hi Amanda, I just saw your article about feeling guilty after putting an abusive partner in jail. I could really use some advice. A young woman I know testified against an abusive partner 15 years ago. He got off parole about a year ago. Since that time, he has occasionally contacted her making threats. She deliberately put old addresses on legal documents to keep her current address private, but he has found her.
At times, he has threatened to kill her. She has responded to his texts with things like, “If you love me like you say you do, stop threatening to hurt me and my daughter. (She has a 4-year-old.) Someone threw a brick through her bedroom window a few weeks ago. Someone rear-ended her car, backed up and hit her again. If this is him, it seems his actions are ramping up.
She let the police know what happened a few weeks back with the brick. She hasn’t let them know about the latest. Other than arming herself, she is out of ideas and is fearful that moving will delay the inevitable because he somehow always finds her. What can she do? Is there witness protection? How do other women find a way to be safe? –N.
Wow, I’m so sorry your friend has to go through this. Her scenario is a stark reminder that abuse doesn’t end the moment a survivor gets up the courage to leave, or musters the courage to testify like your friend did, which I applaud her for. She tried to do everything right and yet she’s still in danger. This is not a new scenario and points to larger systemic changes that need to occur to ensure abusers are held accountable and that survivors don’t have to live in fear for the rest of their lives.
By law, stalking and death threats are illegal, as is damaging someone’s property, so it’s anyone’s guess why this abuser has skirted the law thus far. It may have been that police didn’t think there was enough evidence to arrest him after the brick incident. It may be that your friend didn’t show police the text messages where he threatened to kill her. Even then, some police officers may not consider texted threats, especially from a previous romantic partner, credible. They may not have a thorough understanding of how abuse escalates, and just how seriously threats from an abuser should be taken.
Unfortunately, abusers are often very serious about their threats. Research from the National Institutes of Justice found 71 percent of stalkers whose victims are current or former partners ended up following through on their threats, assaulting their victims, compared to 33 percent of non-intimate partner stalkers who followed through.
In a paper from the American Psychological Association, researchers lay bare the blunt truth: “Intimate partner violence is remarkable for its serial and repetitive nature, with acts of actual or threatened violence often continuing after separation or divorce, at times ceasing only upon the death of one or both parties.” They cite the statistic that 4 out of 5 stalking victims in the U.S. are women and 59 percent of those female victims are stalked by a current or previous intimate partner. Of that group, 81 percent of the women said the person stalking them had also physically abused them during their relationship.
In other words, I believe your friend is in imminent danger, and I hope the police do, too.
Donna Andersen, advocate, survivor, founder of Lovefraud.com and author of Dealing with a Sociopath, among others, says she’s willing to guess your friend’s ex-partner “probably has a personality disorder, like antisocial or psychopathic personality disorder. The desire for power and control is central to who they are.” That’s why it doesn’t sound like he’s going to stop stalking her anytime soon. (Sidenote: Abuse cannot be blamed on having a mental illness.)
“The key problem with somebody like this is they don’t have the ability to love,” says Andersen. “For most people, the ability to love keeps the brakes on bad behavior. In the process of going for what we want, we don’t want to hurt somebody. He doesn’t have these brakes on his desires, so he’s willing to pursue whatever he wants, no matter who gets hurt.”
There are six things your friend should consider doing in this case:
- Cease all communication with the stalker. The main goal of a stalker is to get their victim to acknowledge them. The last thing your friend wants to do is engage or respond in any way to this person’s communication. This means no texting, no answering the phone when he calls, no agreeing to meet him under any circumstances, even if it’s under the auspice of “working it out” or apologizing. “When they get a reaction out of somebody, it’s fuel. She’s feeding the beast,” says Andersen.
- Stay off social media. Assume the stalker is monitoring all of your activity— the last thing you want to do is give them any clues about what you’re doing or where you are. Or, says Brian Joslyn, Esq., family law attorney with the Joslyn Law Firm in Columbus, Ohio, gives him leverage. “I can’t stress the importance of staying off social media during these cases,” says Joslyn. “It can never make your case better airing your issues online. That won’t help you in court and to the contrary, it is common to see these abusers mischaracterize your statements and conversations online and try to use them against you in court.”
- Install extra lighting around her home. Solar-powered motion detecting lights can be found for under $30 on Amazon. If able, consider a front door camera as well, which can record video of anyone who approaches the home or rings the doorbell.
- Document everything. Keep all texts and emails, photograph all physical evidence, and keep a log of the dates and times of anything else suspicious that occurs that she may suspect is his doing. This will be vital if and when she decides to go to the police.
- Continue filing police reports. Your friend should consider staying in contact with local law enforcement about these threats, filing a report for each one, even if they try to dissuade her from doing so (you know what they say about squeaky wheels). “You need to create a paper trail through reporting,” says Joslyn. “And if law enforcement does not seem overly concerned by threats of harm, go straight to the prosecutor’s office with an attorney. Many prosecutor’s offices will review these complaints independently from the police for the determination of potential charges against the abuser.” An attorney may not be affordable for everyone, so consider this next step ...
- Contact a local advocate. She may want to reach out to a trained domestic violence advocate in her area who can help her safety plan and may also have some local resources that could help her, like free or low-cost lay legal help.
- Consider an order of protection carefully. While the seemingly obvious next step here would be to advise your friend to seek an order of protection, Andersen fears this could do little to deter his actions. “Laws are made for people who follow the laws. For somebody like this, he has an agenda, so the laws are going to mean nothing to him.” At the same time, if he’s caught violating an order of protection, it could be what gets him arrested again. It could also, as Andersen says, “be like waving a red flag in front of a bull because she’s inviting confrontation. So now she’s engaged.”
And while it’s never easy to start over, Andersen says relocating may be her best avenue to safety.
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“In all honesty, I would advise moving ... The people who work in the field [domestic violence] know it doesn’t stop until the perp makes it stop. He may have been sitting in jail stewing, so this is probably putting into action a plan he’s been working on for years.
“It’s a mistake to underestimate how evil some people can be. That’s where some of us get in trouble—we don’t understand that some people have no conscience and are willing to do absolutely anything,” she says.
Like this devastating murder-suicide case out of Missoula, Montana in July (we don’t advise you sharing this with your friend). The abuser threatened to kill the victim in May before she got an order of protection. Incidents like this are heartbreaking reminders of how serious threats from abusers should be taken.
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