Monday, August 23, 2010

Documentation of Abuse

By Heidi Hiatt

Typing furiously before he got home, I decided to make another copy. I cut the entire document, many months of notes, from the hard drive and pasted it on the disc whirring in its slot.

At that point I knew that a record of all of the threats, all of the frightening behavior, and my fears on what he was planning had to exist in multiple copies. I had to be sure that someone knew what really happened if I was unable to speak for myself.

Before ejecting the disc, I checked it to be sure the file was on there. Wait—this had to be a mistake. It wasn’t. I went back to the hard drive. I clicked paste again to see if pages upon pages of information would reappear.

It didn’t.

In my haste to get everything off of the computer before 7:00, I had erred and wiped out every bit of information that I’d been saving to get help. When the prosecutor became involved, they tried to recover the data from the disc, but it was long gone.

That incident made me more careful about saving important information that we may need later. It illustrated the importance of having multiple copies of such notes and the need to keep them in more than one place.

Today I want to emphasize how important it is to create and properly store documentation when something in your life doesn’t seem right.

There isn’t a criteria for what should and shouldn’t be saved. You don’t have to be able to prove something in a court of law to justify writing it down. You just have to trust your gut instinct that you need to be keeping a record of what’s going on.

There are many reasons to document what’s going on in your life. You may be experiencing emotional abuse, which frequently escalates. Maybe you are being falsely accused. Perhaps your partner is physically or sexually assaulting you, or things just aren’t adding up.

You may suspect that your partner is being unfaithful. Your spouse’s former partner may be stalking or harassing you. Your partner may be minimizing or excusing someone else’s behavior when it alarms you, or is making you feel like you’re the crazy one.


If someone’s behavior is scaring you or making you uncomfortable, you don’t have to justify that anxiety to anyone. Something’s not right.

As security expert Gavin de Becker says in his must-read bestseller The Gift of Fear, “intuition is always right in at least two important ways; it is always in response to something. It always has your best interest at heart.” He also reminds readers that denial is a save now, pay later scheme.

If things don’t seem right in your life, just start writing. It’s that simple. It is important that you make a permanent record of the events that you sense as “off.”

Don’t be a perfectionist about it. Whether you jot down three sentences on a calendar about what happened on a given day, or you take twenty minutes every night to maintain a detailed diary, just let it flow. It’s unlikely that you’d feel motivated to do it if something wasn’t wrong.

I prefer a free-flowing journal format in which I state the facts and then add how I feel. It is important to record facts and who witnessed the same things. If you need a court order or you have to protect your children in a child custody case, the judge is going to be more keyed into material presented to them as facts than feelings.

It is also important to record your feelings. You might be surprised at how deeply you have been hurt, or how bothered you actually are, when you start letting it out. In this way journaling your circumstances not only protects you, it is therapeutic because it lets the poisons festering inside of you drain out.

Be specific in your entries. Let it all out. Don’t write as if you’re going to be embarrassed about it later. Tell people there’s no way you’d commit suicide, so if that’s suspected, they should investigate until they find out the truth.

If someone’s deception led to rape or medical problems, if your partner was having an affair, and no matter what mistakes you might have made, be sure it’s all there. Honesty is the best policy.

If you won’t do this for your own sake, then do it for your kids, your significant other, or other people who may be hurt by the questionable behavior. Abuse and stalking never affect just one person. You are probably not the only victim of that stalker or abuser, and you may have the opportunity to stop them from doing it to others.

If you are being abused—whether it’s emotional, physical, or both—DO NOT let your partner know that you are keeping those records. There may be times where you want to pull the document out and read to them how you feel, but you have no guarantees that they will ever be sincere about changing their behavior.

If you are keeping tabs on a third party who is trying to harm your relationship or is causing you fear, your partner may be well aware that you are keeping records, but not agree on how to handle that person. Keep a copy hidden from them anyway. Some people’s loyalty shifts like sand dunes in a hurricane.

If you are the family member of someone who is being used, stalked, or making bad choices, you might want to keep your own journal. Your relative doesn’t need to know about it. It might be your “just in case” plan.

You might see your loved one engaged in a relationship that is sure to take them off a cliff at some point. You may notice that they seem oblivious to the consequences of their choices. Write it down. Your prudence could help save a life.

If the information you want to keep is digital, like a photo or information on the internet, and there’s no clear “save as” option, press your “alt” and “print screen” buttons at the same time, then paste it into a Word document. You can also print it.

Because electronic information can be easily replicated, I prefer to save things to CD, DVD, and/or an external hard drive. While it is wise to keep certain original documents, you can keep copies of receipts and medical records by scanning them into your computer. You can also make, save, and duplicate audio and video material.

If the person harming you has access to your computer, you should be very careful about this. They can track your internet usage, rifle through the recycle bin, or maybe even be tech savvy enough to recover files you’ve deleted. You may want to use a library, work, or friend’s computer instead.

For some good information on how to protect yourself, check out Susan Murphy Milano’s book Time’s Up: A Guide on How to Leave and Survive Abusive and Stalking Relationships,

DO NOT STORE THESE DOCUMENTS AT HOME, OR SOLELY AT HOME. I cannot emphasize that enough. Do not keep records of such value in an obvious place. Ensure that if your home is broken into or destroyed, or if your computer is stolen, your tormentors won’t have access to your files. You always have to be three steps ahead of them.

Because a safety deposit box is an obvious choice, you may want to give or mail CDs to people who’ve proven their trust and loyalty for safekeeping. You could give them a small locked box that you ask them not to open in case you are incapacitated, missing, or deceased.

There’s also off-site electronic storage so that you can transmit and update such information over the web. But I advise keeping hard copies in places and with people that are not easily suspected anyway.

Maybe you have a relative 3000 miles away who could keep your files without looking at them, or you have not just people but hiding places that trusted friends will know about.

The bottom line is to be sure that trusted friends or family members, your attorney, and/or your executor know how to find this information if something happens. It is important that more than one person knows where to find your off-site records in case of emergency.

You can have this written into your will. My will is set up so that certain documentation will be automatically disseminated to multiple entities, government and otherwise, about several situations if I expire prematurely. An adequate attorney can help you put your instructions in concrete.

You must structure this life and the next in such a way that no one will get away with harming you or your family. So no matter what happens, the truth will come out, and what the perpetrators have dished out will come back on them a hundredfold.

Even if your abuser works in the legal system, that information doesn’t have to be released to the legal system only, or at all. You can arrange for the truth to be sent to people in the media, politicians, family members, acquaintances, or activists.

Chapter 4 in Susan Murphy Milano’s Time’s Up workbook details how to create an increasingly popular means of documenting abuse, an Evidentiary Will and Abuse Affidavit. As she says, this information isn’t supposed to scare you, but protect you.

An Evidentiary Will and Abuse Affidavit is a notarized document and video documenting the truth to be kept in a secure location. It is not a substitute for taking steps to protect yourself in the here and now, but an added layer of insurance.

Here is an example of the video portion of an Evidentiary Will and Abuse Affidavit:

Documenting abusive, suspicious, or inappropriate behavior is advisable for men and women, the dating or married. Our society sometimes forgets that men can be victims of these trials and deceptions as well because women are abused more often than men.

Any violation of your personal boundaries is unacceptable no matter who you are. Please protect yourself—and those you love—by keeping detailed records, which helps you beat your abusers and accusers at their own sick game. You can—and should—come out on top.


Stalking is a frequently misunderstood and belittled concept. I’d like to highlight a definition of stalking that I found for a term paper on the subject.

One of the most comprehensive definitions of stalking in modern academic literature is “a course of conduct directed at a specific person that involves repeated physical or visual proximity, nonconsensual communication, or verbal, written, or implied threats sufficient to cause fear in a reasonable person”

Stalking is not simply following someone home from work, or making repeated phone calls. It can be any repeated behavior that places someone else in fear or violates their boundaries.


One of the greatest sorrows of human existence is that some people aren’t happy merely to be alive but find their happiness only in the misery of others.
–Dean Koontz

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