Q: My abuser has taken the only shelter and its services away from me. He went there to file a restraining order against me. That made it impossible for me to get help from them. What now? I have been fighting him in court for months and I still don't know how to prove the emotional and psychological abuse that I have endured for the last three years. – Tina
It sounds there are two conundrums you’re having: accessing help from the shelter and proving nonphysical abuse in court. Let’s start with the former.
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Consider the possibility that, as part of your abuser’s ongoing psychological abuse, he is lying to you about the restraining order in order to prevent you from reaching out for help. This is especially likely if he has a history of lying to you or gaslighting you, another tactic of psychological abuse that involves an abuser convincing you that what you believe is true isn’t. In some cases, the abuser will convince a survivor that the abuse they experienced never happened at all, is a figment of her imagination, or is far less severe than she feels it is.
Another possibility is that your abuser presented himself to the shelter as a victim before you could in order to create a conflict for the shelter. However, what you need to remember is that advocates have heard it all. They know how abusers work and what kind of tricks they try to pull. I would highly suggest you consider reaching out to the shelter and talking to them about what’s happening.
Here are some facts to consider: A 2008 study by law professor Nicolas Bala and three other researchersr, in the context of custody disputes, found that mothers make deliberate false reports of abuse less than 2 percent of the time, but that fathers are 16 times more likely to make false reports. Not surprisingly, this rampant false reporting by men means that women have a harder time being believed.
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If he is lying, the tactic your abuser used is a common abuser tactic that too often inadequately trained professionals fall for. If the advocate you speak to doesn’t seem open to this possibility, is not helpful or understanding, ask if you can speak with a supervisor and try again.
If that still doesn’t result in you finding the help you need, you have other options. The first is to try a different shelter, even if it’s outside of your area. Search our Find Help page for shelters in your state. The goal is to simply find an advocate you feel like you can trust, one who can help you get away from this dangerous abuser and stay safe.
You may also consider calling The National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233 and speaking to an advocate there. They are available 24/7, 365 days a year.
You can also contact your county prosecutor. If your abuser did, in fact, obtain a restraining order, the country prosecutor may be able to help you understand what options you have from a legal standpoint. You could also look into hiring an attorney, if you have the financial resources to do so. There is the possibility that free legal help exists near you—check out lawhelp.org or ask your local domestic violence advocate if they know of resources in your area. Just make sure the attorney you hire has experience in domestic violence cases. This is critical.
There are many domestic violence organizations who now have fully trained court advocates proficient in coaching victims about the process they will experience when going to court This is extremely helpful to prepare a survivor if you’re not able to afford an outside attorney. Ask your hotline or shelter if they or other programs in the area offer support and advocacy before or during restraining order hearings.
Now, let’s talk about court. You want to prove nonphysical abuse and yes, that can be tricky. Heather Debreceni is professional divorce coach and also a survivor of domestic abuse. She told us that one thing you do is start seeing a therapist who specializes in treating abuse survivors and ask them if they could testify on your behalf. You could also ask an advocate, if you find one you feel comfortable opening up to, if they would testify.
Is there anyone in your life who witnessed the abuse happen in real-time? A friend or family member, or maybe a coworker. That person could also lend their testimony in court if they are willing.
The other key piece of evidence you can use is a log or diary. Did you journal about the abuse anywhere? Did you send details about it to someone in an email that you could print out? Are there threatening or abusive messages or texts your abuser sent you that you bring to court? Here’s a list of 23 other types of evidence you may be able to collect against your abuser.
Try to remember and record all the various tactics of abuse your abuser used against you. This could include emotional, psychological or economic abuse, any monitoring or stalking your abuser used, isolation tactics, controlling behavior, false allegations against you, or litigation or custody threats. The more evidence of abuse you bring to court, the stronger your case.
This is a lot to deal with, Tina. Make sure you’re prioritizing self-care during this process. Find information about doing just that in our Taking Care of You section.
Ask Amanda is meant to offer helpful resources and information about domestic violence. If in crisis, please reach out to your nearest domestic violence shelter for the guidance of a trained advocate.
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