Building Your Case: How to Document Abuse

reporting domestic violence

Building Your Case: How to Document Abuse

document-the-abuseIf you are in an abusive relationship and are in the process of taking (or deciding to take) legal action against your abusive partner, documentation of your partner’s abusive behaviors can be an important component of your case.

It’s worth noting that each state has different laws about what evidence and documentation can be used in court. Speaking with a legal advocate in your state might better prepare you for your unique situation (our advocates at the Hotline can help locate a legal advocate near you). According to WomensLaw, in most states evidence can include (but is not limited to) the following:

  • Verbal testimony from you or your witnesses
  • Medical reports of injuries from the abuse
  • Pictures (dated) of any injuries
  • Police reports of when you or a witness called the police
  • Household objects torn or broken by the abuser
  • Pictures of your household in disarray after a violent episode
  • Pictures of weapons used by the abuser against you
  • A personal diary or calendar in which you documented the abuse as it happened

Below are a few actions you can take to create documentation, if you are able to or feel safe doing so:

Visit the doctor. More and more, doctors and gynecologists are trained to recognize signs of abuse. Your health care provider could also be a safe resource for disclosing the abuse. If you’re visiting a doctor for an injury, ask them about safe ways they can make notes about the abuse — ex. Some can write “cause of an injury” without it having to go to the police.

Consider outside documentation. Do you have a trusted friend, coworker or family member who knows what’s going on and would be willing to help? There are many ways they can help document the abuse — whether that’s a coworker making note of times your partner calls you at the office, or a friend holding your journal at her house.

Create a stalking log. If your partner is stalking you, creating a stalking log can be very helpful to your case. The National Center for Victims of Crime’s Stalking Resource Center has examples of stalking logs (in PDF and Word formats) as well as additional information on stalking.

Learn more about police reports. Always ask questions. Call your local police department’s non-emergency number and find out about the protocols and procedures of filing a police report — ex. Like filing about a lost bike. Ask, “Hypothetically, if there was something that was happening that I would want to report…” This can help you prepare for filing a police report if you need to, which creates a paper trail of the abuse.

Take pictures. A digital camera or your phone camera may not always be safe. Consider getting a disposable camera. Another option is for someone else to take the pictures and keep them for you.

Let a call go to voicemail. Is your partner calling over and over? Let it go to voicemail once and save the voicemail.

Save digital evidence. Do you have a smartphone? Most have the “take a screenshot” option. Thirty missed calls from your abusive partner? Take a screenshot of that. Threatening texts? Instead of responding to them, take a screenshot of them. These screen shots get saved in your images folder, so remember to send them on to a friend and delete them. If your partner sends threatening emails, don’t respond to them, but consider saving them in a folder in your inbox.

If you’re not sure if making documentation of your abuse would be safe, always go with your gut. It’s very important to keep in mind that you are the expert on your situation, and what works for one person may not be a safe idea for another person.

We are not legal advocates at the Hotline, but we are able to offer support and refer you to the local or state resources that might be helpful to you. Give us a call anytime at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).

Comment section

25 replies
  1. Lisa,

    Thank you so much for reaching out to our blog community. We know it can be really scary to seek help. I encourage you to give us, the National Domestic Violence Hotline, a call at 1800-799-7233. Your call is completely anonymous and confidential and advocates are available 24/7 to offer guidance and support.

  2. Please help. My husband is an abuser who has thrown things like batter and drinks at me when he is angered. I have called the police but nothing ever gets done about it just the usual you two need to work it out and seek counseling. I want to file for divorce but also want to build my case. How can I do this?

  3. I also need help. I don’t know how to document my abuse. My husband rapes me when he is mad. It seems like it would be his word against mine as to whether or not it was actually “rape”. He has said things like “it’s not rape since we are married” and “I will just tell them that you like it rough”. I think people will not believe me, especially when I say that it has been going on for 15 years. I feel very alone and isolated. Lately I have been so depressed that I have thought about giving up and just ending it all.

  4. Susan,
    Don’t give up! At times I have been exactly in your shoes. My husband is an educator and very liked in the community. But the things he does to me behind close doors are unacceptable. I find myself staying quiet and keeping his secret because like you I am not sure if people will believe me. I am finally mustering up some strength to move forward and end the marriage. It’s rough but please hang in there!

  5. Hi Mary Ann,

    Thank you so much for reaching out. Throwing things at you can be very intimidating and a common sign of abuse. It is definitely not okay that he is doing that. We also know that the police are not always aware of the dynamics of domestic violence and can end up making a situation worse. You definitely deserve to be safe and there are options and resources that you can tap into. It might be a good idea to check out the website Women’s Law. There is some great state specific information about divorce there.

    I would also invite you to give us a call at 1(800)799.7233. We are here 24/7 and we are completely confidential/anonymous. We can talk to you about your situation, hopefully develop a plan for your safety and then get you connected to any local resources that can help (like legal advocacy).

    Until then,
    Hotline Advocate MC

  6. Hi Susan,

    Wow. That sounds like a very awful situation. What your husband is doing is absolutely rape. It is never okay for anyone to touch you without your consent, regardless of marital status. We also live in a society that is very quick to blame the victim and protect the abuser. One way that you can start to document what is going on is by writing it all down. Write down all of the things that he says and does and keep the log safe so that he won’t find it. If he sends you any inappropriate or threatening text messages/voice mails, definitely hang on to those as well. We also know that victims of domestic violence often have high rates of suicide. Feeling like you want to end it when there seems to be no escape is totally normal. Know that you are not alone.

    I would really encourage you to give us a call at 1(800)799.7233. We are here 24/7 and we are completely confidential/anonymous. We can talk to you about your situation, hopefully develop a plan for your safety and then get you connected to any local resources that can help, like counseling or a rape crisis center.

    Stay safe,
    Hotline Advocate MC

  7. I’m stuck. My lease is up in sept. I can’t afford to keep my place if I get a restraining order and get him to move out. He threw a xbox controller hard at my chest and punched me in the forehead sat hard enough to make my nose sore but not as bad as what he did to me in nov. Im scared to call the cops. In nov he severed a vein in my temple that made my head look like an alien head the recovery took two and a half months that transformed to two black eyes. I went to the hospital but had to lie cuz he had his mom and sister there to keep me from getting him into trouble. I took pain pills for two months and he enrolled into AM but only went to one class cuz he said he wasnt going to make up the classes he missed from his hockey tournament just so I could feel better about myself. He says the most rotten things to me but then turns around and tries to be nice like Jekyl and hyde. I cant take it anymore Ive lost my humor in life and super depressed. I cant take this manipulation anymore but do not have the funds to move on. I dont know what to do

  8. I am in an abusive relationship. I am 30 years old and this is my second abusive relationship. I am embarrassed to phone the police or reach out to my center because I feel like I am the problem. Like I let history repeat itself and I feel so stupid for returnig to the help office. I know where to go. I know the protocol. It happened again. And I just feel like I have awful taste in men and I feel hopeless in relationships. I don’t feel like it is my fault that I get hit in he head and verbally abused. But I do feel like it is my fault that I am a magnet to abusive men. If that makes sense.
    The reason I am writing this is I need some sort of reply that will get the motion rolling to get this awful guy out of my house which I own so I can’t move and so he knows where I live. I really don’t want to have to move to get this guy to leave. I have asked him to leave and he won’t. I live in albuquerque nm.

  9. I am in a similar situation. I have lost my sense of humor. I don’t laugh. I am not happy. I need just that nudge to snap out of it and go to a help center.
    I have brothers and if I ever visited my brothers girlfriend in the hospital for what he did . I would confront my brother and his girlfriend and make them break up. It sounds like your boyfriends family has no sense of perspective on what is good for both of you. It sounds like they take your boyfriends side because he is family and of course love him. The fact of the matter is I love my brother and if he put his girlfriend in the hospital even if I hated her I would make him snap because I love him. They don’t see it that way. They are not helping your boyfriend they are just making him more unhappy. Any man that hits women is unhappy.

  10. Dear D,

    Thank you so much for reaching out today. I know it must have taking a lot to share with us what you are going through. I want you to know that you are not alone and that you are absolutely right, this is not your fault. It does make sense why you feel like you continue to attract these men. But again, you are only responsible for your actions. You have done nothing and can do nothing to cause this. I know that there is a lot of shame around being a victim of domestic violence but you deserve to be safe. Reaching out for help is hard but it can really help get you safe.

    I would really encourage you to call us at 1(800)799-7233. We are here 24/7. We are completely confidential and anonymous. We can talk about your situation, develop a plan for your safety and get you connected to local resources that can help. You don’t have to face this by yourself, we are here.

    Until then,
    Hotline Adovcate MC

  11. My Daughter, has finally decided to leave her abuser after 10 years (off and on). She has 3 kids and is living with her Dad and I. She has been here a month and 1 week. He wouldn’t leave the apt., so she did. He wouldn’t let her get clothes and he pushed her out of the apt. He ended up with a ticket for DV(not his first one) Last summer, he pushed her down when she was pregnant. Looks like he my go to jail for 5 years . I’m so stressed out and don’t know what the heck to do now…….

  12. Karen,

    Thank you so much for reaching out to our blog community. It sounds like a lot is going on and I am so glad your daughter is safe and with you. Abusive relationships are so complex and it is completely understandable to feel confused on what the next steps might be. No one ever expects to have to go through this and we never learn how to navigate through these situations. Which is why the National Domestic Violence Hotline exists! I encourage you and/or your daughter to give us a call, 1800-799-7233, to speak with an advocate about your next steps. The HOTLINE is completely anonymous and confidential and available 24/7. We are here to talk about ways to stay safe as well as help you find local programs to continue helping.

    Until then,


  13. I really don’t know how to get help. Been w currant abuser for over 3 yrs. I have children but from a previous relationship. I am scared to call the police bc I don’t want to go to jail or have dcf involved. I am not the abuser. When he gets mad he punchs me repeatedly in the face, chocks me, and just hits me anywhere he can get his hands on me. I do not know what to do. I am sick of this. I want out but have no where to go with my kids. My family is a no go since I tried that many yrs ago and it didn’t work out since one of my parents is a narcissist and a really bad controlling person. I am in my mid 30’s and feel like such a loser because I have no where to go. I just fear that I will lose my kids over his irrational abusive behavoir. What do I do?????

  14. Hi Kay,

    Thank you for sharing with our blog community. It takes a lot of courage to talk about what you’re experiencing, and to reach out for help. Your relationship sounds incredibly scary and dangerous. We understand that there are many factors to consider, like children and custody, and that it can be overwhelming to try to figure out a next step that will keep all of you safe. We recognize that every person, and every relationship is different, so what works to keep someone safe is different from person to person.

    You have the right to be safe, and your boyfriend has no right to hurt you in any way. If you would like to talk about the situation, our advocates are here for you 24/7 at 1-800-799-7233. All of our calls are confidential and anonymous. We are here to provide support, and be a safe place to talk about ways to stay safe as well as figure out what options might be available. It can be really scary when you don’t see a way out. We’re here anytime it’s safe for you to talk.

    Take care,

    Hotline Advocate AS

  15. I’m so glad I’m not alone feeling scared and angry. I’m working up the courage to get help and get out. My concern is my kids and their friends parents are mutual friends of ours. We attend a school community that is very close knit. Everyone sees my husband as such a role model, but the kids and I know it’s a facade. The latest incident happened Saturday evening and I’m trying to get the courage to file a police report. My face is still swollen and I have purple bruises on my body. He said if I filed a report I he would show me what a real abuse victim looks like. I’m angry more than scared but hate for my kids to experience it too. Please help.

  16. Hi Elaine,

    It can be so frustrating and upsetting when the carefully crafted image that your spouse has in the community isn’t the person that you, or the family know him to be. It can make it very scary to think about reaching out for help, and being concerned that people won’t believe you is something we hear a lot here at the Hotline. Our advocates here do believe you, and recognize that you are the expert on your partner and your relationship. You’ve been the one to keep yourself alive and your kids safe when your husband choose to be aggressive, hurtful, and abusive. That takes a lot of strength, energy, and courage! You and the kids have a right to be safe, even though it can be hard to figure out how to get to that place of safety. Our advocates are available 24/7 at 1-800-799-7233 and our calls are all anonymous and confidential. We can definitely talk about the next steps you’re wanting to take and work with you to figure out how to increase your safety. Please give us a call anytime it’s safe to talk.

    We’re hear when you need us.

    Hotline Advocate AS

  17. This is the first time I’ve posted on a website about the emotional abuse I’ve gone through at the expense of the husband. We’ve been married 10 years. At least once a month he goes into temper tantrums, yelling to the point of spitting. Usually what starts these tantrums is something I either say or neglect to do. It’s much worse if he is out of marijiunana to smoke. He has thrown objects at me. He hit me a few times, but hasn’t done it in a long time because he knows I will hit him back.

    He has issue with anxiety and depression, but the only treatment he seeks is smoking marijuana. I feel like a magnet for all his everyday frustrations, and after 10 years I can’t take it anymore. I can’t take being told that I’m a child when I’m 34 years old. He says he yells at me because I disrespect him.

  18. Hi PS,

    Thank you for sharing your story with our blog community. For your husband to treat you with abuse is inexcusable. It doesn’t matter if he is out of marijuana or what is going on in his life. Using the idea that you are disrespecting him for his abuse is him attempting to shift the blame onto you. The truth is that his abuse is his fault and there is nothing you could do to deserve abuse. If you would like to reach out to an advocate we are here 24/7 at 1-800-799-7233 and reachable on chat from 7am to 2am CST.

    Take care,

    Hotline Advocate LC

  19. [Admin note: This comment has been edited for safety per our community guidelines.]
    I have been in an abusive marriage for about 5 years I suffered physical abuse, emotional, mental, and marital rape. It was an arranged marriage. I have been beaten to lengths at a time from.this man he would withhold my phone from.me and go through it and make sure nothing was going on behind his back. I have some pieces of things he’s done as of recent a bruised eye, verbal audio of him being abusive to me and my son, and a small video of my son after he regained consciousness. I couldn’t take this anymore after he tried to take my son’s life. He has been abusive to him as well. My son is 4 has been abused by this man for about a year and a half. He has become timid and quiet with everybody but the people he trusts. I don’t know what to do… how to prove my suffering and my sons. I know what I loved and survived thank god! Do you think I could get full physical and legal custody of my boy? It’s all I want is us to move on and be free. A man who can kill his wife and son has no right to his child or wife. Please help me.

  20. Thank you for your message to The Hotline. I am sorry about everything that you have gone through–it sounds like you’ve been dealing with a lot! For privacy and confidentiality reasons, we usually don’t answer questions via DM, but I’d love for you to get in touch with our advocates so you can talk things through and find ways in which we can support you! You are also welcome to call or chat with us anytime – we’d be happy to help you come up with some options for you. Our number is 1-800-799-7233 and our website http://www.thehotline.org Our chat is also available 24/7/365. I hope this helps. Please take good care of yourself.
    The Hotline Admin

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