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How Abusers Trick Survivors Into Denying Abuse

A five-step manipulation process

  • December 23, 2015
  • By domesticshelters.org
How Abusers Trick Survivors Into Denying Abuse

Take it back. Victims of domestic violence sometimes retract their claims against their abusers for various reasons, including being fearful of them or worrying what may happen if and when their abuser is released from jail. However, some also recant claims of abuse out of fear of what may happen to their abuser. A recent study found abusers often play upon the emotions of their victims and are successful at convincing their victims to drop charges.

In the referenced study, researchers listened to recorded jailhouse phone calls between 17 men charged with felony domestic violence and their female partners—all of whom decided to drop the charges. The men were being held in a Washington state detention facility and about three hours of conversation between each couple was studied.

During these phone calls, the abusers minimized the abuse and emphasized feelings of depression and loneliness to their victims. In one instance, an abuser threatened suicide before the survivor promised to get him out of jail.

Most of the 17 phone calls happened in what the researchers deemed a five-step process; a process of which survivors should be aware. In this case, the study was done on male abusers, though these tactics may be used by either male or female abusers toward either male or female survivors. This study determined distinct stages to the manipulation process of the 17 males studied:

  • First stage: An intense argument over what happened occurred, all the while the survivors willfully held their ground.
  • Second stage: The abusers minimized his actions, maintaining he didn’t do anything severe enough to warrant a felony charge. A critical point happened here—the abusers pleaded with their victims, telling them how depressed and lonely they were, and how much they missed the victim and the children. They took on the role of the victim and received sympathy from the survivors, who soothed and comforted them.
  • Third stage: The two would tell each other how much they loved one another and how no one else understood their relationship. It was them against the world.
  • Fourth stage: The abusers asked their victims to drop the charges and they did.
  • Fifth stage: The victims recanted the charges in each of the cases. Typically, at that point, the couple would go over specifically what each should say in court. So now that we know this, how can we help? Prosecutors and other advocates can counsel survivors and inform them that their partner may likely use sympathy appeals and minimization techniques, in an effort to have the victim drop the charges. If the victims are aware and prepared, they may be more likely to comply with the prosecution and maintain the charges.

Even after all of this, if the survivor still wishes to recant, it is important to note that the prosecution may still be able to move forward with the charges. Criminal cases such as these are usually prosecuted by a district attorney’s office. So, if the prosecutor has enough other evidence to support the charges, the case may continue.

Of course, proceeding with a case without the survivor’s testimony isn’t always possible. Also, in some cases when an abuser convinces a survivor to recant, this is considered witness tampering. Learn more about it in “Threatened Not to Testify.” If you’re in this situation and need help, contact a local support group or speak to a trained advocate 24/7 at National Domestic Violence Hotline, 800-799-SAFE.