In Quora today someone asked for helpful tips for going to court against an abuser.
I was able to come up with 17.
1. I always tell victims of abuse to keep a journal, if they don’t think they have time or are not “writers”, then simply get a day planner and make notes each day. We all think we will remember events, especially negative ones but the truth is, when in an abusive relationship there is so much drama and trauma, events get forgotten or days all run in together. Judges like facts; standing up in court saying he did this or that ends up being a “he said/she said” situation and an abuser (usually a narcissist) is very good at playing the victim and at lying. Besides, how many times has the narcissist been able to make you doubt your own eyes or argued so convincingly that you did something that you are sure you didn’t, that you begin to doubt your sanity? Best to write things down.
If the victim can flip through a journal or calendar and give dates and times to events it is much more believable. It also helps the victim stay calm and not get flustered.
So often in court the victim is justifiably emotional, the abuser is calm, rational and usually lying. If the victim has notes they can refer to it helps them to remain calm and to confidently rebuttal the lies. Unfortunately the judicial system views emotional people as being out of control or lying. The old says “thou protesteth too much” comes to mind. If you have the facts right in front of you there is no need to try to defend yourself, you simply state facts.
Pictures speak a thousand words is also very true in court.
- Note of warning. Make dang sure the abuser does not know you are keeping a journal or have pictures because he/she will go to any length to find and destroy them, including killing the victim.
- There is also a tendency for the victim to be too honest. They tell the abuser they have evidence of abuse in hopes it will make the abuse stop. This could be extremely dangerous.
2. Keep any threatening emails, texts, voice messages that the abuser leaves/sends and if it can be done safely, record any interactions where he/she is threatening the victim.
* Again, I repeat, make sure the abuser never finds out. Have a trusted friend keep the evidence if possible.
I remember watching a true story about a woman who was murdered. They couldn’t nail anyone with the murder until they found a shoe box in her closet with pictures and her journals. Unfortunately it didn’t save her life but at least the killer (her fiance ) was made to pay for the crime. (BTW he killed her after she agreed to meet with him to celebrate their anniversary, he bought her a beautiful gift, they had dinner and then he killed her. )
3. I also strongly advise to have your support system with you. In Canada we have advocates who will go to court with the victim, but a good friend who can remain calm and keep the victim calm is always advisable.
4. Written character references are helpful, the abuser will try to discredit the victim, make them sound unstable, violent or promiscuous; so references from employers, family, long term friends etc who will vouch the victim is honest, loving and rational goes a long way to disputing the abuser’s claims that he was pushed to his limit’s by the victim.
The abuser will often use, “I know it was wrong, I shouldn’t have let her get to me, I should have just walked away. I am not a violent person and I am so ashamed I lost control. She can be relentless.” He can even squeeze out some tears and shaking hands. The worst thing the victim could do is lose it and yell “he’’s lying!!” much better to have the written character references and to remain calm in court.
5. Something many people don’t think of is; how to dress. For women I always advise as follows:
Wear something you are comfortable in and fits well. It doesn’t have to be expensive, preferably it shouldn’t be too expensive anyway. Slacks or skirt with a button up blouse. No cleavage, no mini skirts, no bright colors. Keep it muted colors, not red or black, but grey, beige, soft blue, green, cream. You get the idea.
No dangling bangles, earrings should be simple studs or small hoops, no bracelets that will make noise. The judge finds it distracting and irritating.
Shoes should be comfortable, you might have to walk quite a distance, and you will have to stand in front of the judge. Also they should be “sensible” shoes, only a 3″ heel at most, closed toe, (no thigh high boots).
Hair should be away from the face in a simple up do or clipped back. I tend to play with my hair when I am nervous so any time I go to court I make sure to put my hair up to avoid mindlessly twisting my hair. Once again, it is distracting and makes the victim appear nervous and fidgety.
If a woman is wearing panty hose, please make sure they fit well and bring a spare pair in case you get a run.
Make sure your bra straps won’t show or fall off your shoulder.
Make sure you won’t be fidgeting!!
6. A week or so before court do a practice run. Drive to the courthouse at the same time you will be driving the day of court and make sure you know where to go. Allot extra time for unforseeable delays like road construction, trains, school buses, detours etc on the day of court.
7. If you are going to be at the courthouse anyway, make an appointment to speak to duty counsel, they can prepare you for what to expect.
In Canada, every courthouse has a “duty counsel” lawyer volunteers who give free legal counsel. You can call ahead and make an appointment to speak with one. The more you know about what to expect, where to go etc, the calmer you will be on the day of court.
8. Try on your outfit a week ahead of time and make sure it is clean and pressed. Nothing adds to the stress quite like rushing to get ready and having to iron a blouse or to put something on and find the hem is coming down, it has a stain or a button missing. To be on the safe side it never hurts to have one of those travel sewing kits in your car.
9. Get or borrow a briefcase for your paperwork. Either leave your purse at home or use a shoulder bag so you are not fumbling with papers, dropping papers, dumping your purse on the floor, etc.
10. Days ahead make copies of your evidence (never hand over evidence without making copies) organize your paperwork and pictures so you are not trying to find stuff in court and wasting the judge’s time.
11. The night before: fill the gas tank and check the air in your tires. Leave nothing to chance if possible.
12. Day of court: leave yourself plenty of time to get there. Better to be there early and go for a coffee than to be rushed or worse; late!
13. Stand when the judge enters the court room.
14. Bow when approaching the judge and again when leaving. Address the judge as “Your Honor” or “ Your Lordship “.
15. The narcissist WILL try to: intimidate you, make you look unstable and try to make you jealous by bringing the new woman with him. Please do not play into his game. Even if you are dating someone else please do not bring him to court with you. Do not play into the narc’s game, it is not attractive and won’t win any points with the judge. It just looks dysfunctional. Remember, only a sick person can go straight from a committed relationship with one person to falling madly in love with someone else a week later. A true victim is too busy trying to heal to start dating.
The woman will probably shoot you daggers and be SO loving and supportive you will want to slap her. Either, don’t even look at them or if you can pull it off; shake your head and give her a little knowing grin, its a subtle way of letting her know, you know something she doesn’t. It also shows you have class. Do NOT under any circumstances get into an exchange with him and her. If he approaches you, go immediately to a security guard.
I know of one case where the victim was able to remain so calm that the abuser totally lost it in the hallway outside the courtroom; yelling and threatening her. He was arrested immediately and of course totally blew his case.
16. Just be honest. Don’t try to guess what the narcissist will do or say or what lies he will tell. You know he will lie but you are prepared with facts and the truth. A narcissist relies heavily on intimidation and lies; when he is faced with the truth he starts to fall apart because he won’t have proof and a judge is not going to be intimidated by him. The narcissist is thinking you aren’t even going to show up for court, let alone be calm cool and collected.
17. Take tissues with you, it’s OK to cry, just try to not be a sobbing emotional basket case or a screaming fish wife.
That’s about it. Good luck!