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To dominate their partners, abusers sometimes call the police against their victims, or injure themselves to make it look as if they are the person who is being hurt. By controlling the story of what happened, abusers manipulate their victims and law enforcement, interfering with victims’ ability to get the help they need. Let’s look at an example:
Anita felt like she was losing her mind. She had suffered through her husband’s control, yelling, and blows for years without telling anyone. She finally called the police one morning, worried that Sam might also hurt their children. Sam overheard the call and locked himself in the bathroom. When the police arrived, Sam walked out, bleeding from his chest, saying that Anita attacked him with a knife. He explained away the bruises on her arms as resulting from when he had wrestled the knife from her. The police seemed uninterested in Anita’s story of what had really happened and arrested them both. Anita faced more serious legal charges. Sam told Anita that if she ever thought about calling the police again, he would make sure that she would remain in jail for life. Anita lost all trust in the criminal justice system.
As in the example above, self-injuring abusers may compound a victim’s terror by threatening them with jail time, child protection investigations, or loss of child custody. Abusers may also hope this distorted story of abuse will spread throughout their community, ruining their victims’ reputation. Abusers may hope their self-injury will frighten and intimidate the victim into remaining in the relationship.
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How can you protect yourself from an abuser who self-injures to get you in trouble?
1) Document everything. Take photos of your injuries and keep a written record of assaults, threats, humiliation and control. Record abusive phone calls, if it is legal in your state. Do not simply leave these recordings on your phone—send them to someone you can trust or make sure they are stored in a safe place or multiple places. (Remember, abusers often find out your passwords and therefore can delete what is stored on your phone, or hide or smash your phone).
2) Audio or video record everything. Turn your phone on “record” and document an incident as it occurs, if it will not put you at risk. You can leave your phone on a table so at least the sound is being recorded.
3) Tell someone you trust about what is going on. If anyone witnessed the incidents, their reports can bolster your case.
4) Contact a domestic violence advocate from a local agency and develop a safety plan. Make sure your advocate knows that the abuser self-injures, so you can strategize together about how to handle this.
5) Do not stick up for the person who abused you or defend them to the police or the courts. Abusers will often act loving after an assault or before court, trying to get their partners to defend them and bend the truth. Do not fall for these manipulations and lie on behalf of the person who hurt you.
Self-injury to make a victim look like an abuser is a manipulative form of domestic abuse. It is also a form of gaslighting. Fortunately, some police understand this trick. One workshop participant told me that her husband punched himself in the face on two separate occasions, after assaulting her, trying to make her look like the guilty party. Both times, the police did not believe his story and arrested him, not her. Some jurisdictions have enacted “primary aggressor” laws, which require the police to figure out who was the primary aggressor in situations where both people show injuries; these laws have resulted in fewer dual arrests.
Of course, the best way to keep yourself safe from an abuser who self-injures is to find a safe way to leave the relationship. Remember, living with an abuser is lonely, but you are not alone. Reach out to a domestic violence advocate in your area by visiting our Find Help page.
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