Documenting Abuse

Documenting the warning signs of dating abuse (in every form that it occurs) will help provide proof of your partner’s behavior if you ever need it, for legal reasons or otherwise.

For some survivors, it can simply be useful to validate your experience and process complex emotions.

Ways to document abuse include:

Keeping a journal of what you experience, including descriptions of how the incident made you feel.

Writing down statements you, your partner, or any witnesses make before, during, or after the abuse.

Recording dates, times, and descriptions of incidents. If furniture is overturned or items were thrown, describe the scene and take photos of the damage.

Documenting any injuries, no matter how small (with photos if possible).

Seeking medical care, even if there are no visible injuries, especially if you have been strangled or choked.

Filing a report with the police, if you determine that it’s safe for you to do so.

Documenting digital abuse

Documentation can be an important way of substantiating claims that your partner is abusive.

Threats and other controlling behaviors often occur online or over the phone, and your partner may even admit to abusing you in a message or post intentionally or unintentionally. If you intend to eventually seek legal recourse, evidence of the abuse will be important to building your case. Evidence of digital abuse is often fleeting and may be easily deleted, whether by accident or intentionally. Take steps to secure documentation of any digital abuse you’re experiencing by:

Printing out emails or call logs that contain evidence or information about the incident. Make sure the printout includes the sender, recipient, date, and time.
Printing out text messages or taking pictures of a phone display containing the message, contact information, date, and time.
Printing screenshots of social media posts that contain evidence of abuse. This may appear in the form of admissions of abuse, threats of violence, or even photos that you didn’t consent to. Check your profile as well as your partner’s for evidence.
Recording voicemails of abuse including the time and date of the message.

If you don’t have a cell phone, camera, computer, or other technology to help you document abuse, consider visiting a public library to access computers and printers (and possibly rental photo equipment) to compile evidence of abuse. Friends, loved ones, or community organizations may also be able to lend you technology or help you document abuse.

Make sure all your documentation is stored in a place that your abuser is unable or unlikely to look. Be creative in how and where you store evidence. Examples of ways to safely and creatively store digital evidence include:

Creating a separate email address for the sole purpose of documenting abuse. Store everything you write as saved messages and compile photos in one place (just be sure not to use the account for other purposes).
Memorizing passwords you create and avoiding mentioning plans to people electronically — your partner might be monitoring your movements through your texts or social media.
Having a back up drive to upload any important documents or information.
Using a password-protected online journal (taking care to keep your password private).
Hiding printed evidence in a place your abuser won’t look, like a separate room or hidden in the basement.

Documenting sexual assault

This kind of documentation is a deeply-challenging step in the aftermath of abuse.

Your safety should always be your first priority, but your long-term well-being depends on seeking support from someone you trust, as well as medical attention. If you intend to pursue criminal legal charges against your attacker, you’ll also need to take steps immediately after the incident to document the abuse before cleaning yourself or changing clothes.

If you’re sexually assaulted, try to get to a safe place away from your attacker where you can think through your next steps. You may be scared, angry, confused, and hurt — remember that the abuse was not your fault.

Steps to consider next:

Contact someone you trust. Having someone there to support you after experiencing sexual assault can help you express and process complex feelings in a way that doesn’t threaten your safety, and can give you room to focus on your healing while they help with everything else. It’s often useful to speak with a counselor, sexual assault hotline, or support group if you don’t feel comfortable reaching out to a friend or family member. You can always contact us to talk through your situation and identify available resources.
Go to an emergency room or health clinic. It’s extremely important for you to seek health care as soon as you can after being assaulted. You can expect to be treated for any injuries, offered medications to help prevent pregnancy and/or STIs, and have tests run to ensure your long term well-being. There may also be sexual assault advocates in the area who can assist you and answer any questions. A Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) can provide these services and collect evidence in case you decide to pursue legal action in the future.
Report what happened. If you determine that it’s safe for you to do so, you may report what happened to law enforcement to pursue criminal legal recourse against your attacker. If you decide to do so, it’s important that you do your best to avoid altering or destroying any evidence of the attack to prepare a stronger legal case. That means don’t shower, wash your hair or body, comb your hair, or change your clothes, even if it’s hard not to. If you’re nervous about going to the police station, it may help to bring a trusted friend with you, keeping in mind any relevant safety considerations for them as well.

Remember that you always have options. Speaking with one of our advocates can be a good place to start.

Contact us to learn more about responding to sexual abuse or to find resources that fit your situation.

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