A Guide for Collecting Evidence of Abuse
Abuse can take many forms, and every abuser has his or her unique way of manipulating and marginalizing victims. Gathering evidence of abuse first requires the victim to recognize what’s going on and want to end the behavior. It’s especially difficult when the abuser has no record of a criminal past or domestic violence.
Signs of Abuse
- being denied food, clothing, or money to get necessities;
- your partner belittles you, lies, or forces you to engage in illegal acts;
- anyone who harms your children, scares them, or denies them necessities in order to exercise power and control over you;
- you are blamed for everything and frequently humiliated;
- you are denied access to supportive people like other family members and friends; and
- you are anxious and tense most of the time, afraid to do anything that will result in a temper tantrum, a beating, or further denial of necessary food, shelter, or physical comfort.
Signs of Child Abuse
Signs of child abuse, which can have life-long effects on mental health, include:
- withdrawal from activities and friends;
- unexplained physical symptoms like stomach aches and headaches;
- a decline in school performance; and,
- behavior that is out of character, like swearing, tantrums, or abusing pets.
Burden of proof
If an abuser is the victim’s parent, boss, teacher, pastor, or other authority figure, the amount and type of evidence required as proof is a challenge, because any complaint can be dismissed as “sour grapes” or exaggerated, and any testimony negated as one person’s word against another’s. Compounding that is the fact that courts are required to provide free legal defense to the accused abuser while the victim must find an attorney willing to work for free or find a way to pay for legal representation.
The doctrine of burden of proof requires that the accuser prove that the abuser is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a criminal case. This burden of proof is a legal benchmark because it carries significant consequences. The abuser, if proven guilty, could go to jail, lose custody, lose a job, have his or her reputation ruined, and face financial penalties as well. In civil cases (suing for money) it’s called a “preponderance of evidence” which means there’s enough to convince a judge or jury.
Where can a victim without an attorney find out what proof is needed and how to compile it?
Abuse comes in many shapes and colors: there’s verbal abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, financial abuse, and emotional abuse. Some is easier to prove than others – for instance, emotional abuse leaves few clues except for a broken person. And is that type of abuse punishable legally?
Getting legal help
Help for victims of domestic abuse is available through shelters (see www.domesticshelters.org). These are locations where individuals and families can hide from their abusers, get advice and information on what steps to take next, and gather the resources necessary to break free of an abuser. Some shelters can connect victims with free legal advice on divorce or suing the abuser for things like financial or child support, to get restraining orders that will keep the abuser away, and ways to retrieve belongings from a home occupied by the abuser.
If you’re not ready to go to a shelter, you may still get information from shelters and support organizations, including how to collect evidence of the abuse and build a case against the abuser.
Here are some suggestions for collecting evidence of abuse:
- Witnesses. Has a neighbor, friend, coworker, or other person seen the abuser in action? Is there anyone you confide in? If you have a counselor or doctor you’ve told about the abuse, that person can be a witness.
- Physical evidence. It can be dangerous to collect physical items like threatening notes or text messages (learn to do screenshots), broken items, torn clothing, receipts, and credit card bills. Consider photographing them instead, and saving to a cloud storage account or send to a friend or criminal defense attorney.
- Photos. Bruises, broken mirrors or windows, overturned furniture, broken dishes can all be evidence of violent behavior. You may also photograph papers like receipts and images of computer monitors that document the behavior or threats.
- Recordings. Learn to save nasty voicemails, to make computer webcam recordings, and to turn on a voice recorder phone app to capture moments of abusive conversations or angry outbursts.
- Save pictures in a locked app on your phone or upload them to cloud storage so the abuser cannot find and erase them.