What can you do if you can’t just leave
**Start a journal and document events **
Time after time, in accounts of domestic problems which reach the stage of court cases, I see the same issues popping up.
-There is usually an escalating pattern
-There are usually witnesses invested in hiding it
-There is usually a prior incident report which is later withdrawn by accuser
-There is no independently verifiable trail of physical evidence
How a journal may help
Apart from actual physical imprisonment/abuse or severe financial dependence, it is the internal belief of the target that the situation is manageable/bearable and might improve that is the greatest barrier to building a good case. Targets modify or withdraw charges in the hope that the abuser will change, either due to true remorse or due to fear of reprisals. Perhaps such an incident might encourage the couple to go for therapy formally or with friends and family, and some compromise is reached. Or the couple may separate if the differences can’t be resolved. I will assume that this percentage is significant – though it is worth following up.
Part of this attempt to “try again” by understanding and forgiving the abuse is an active effort to erase evidence of the incident, in an effort to reassure the partner that a fresh start is being made, to reduce defensiveness and in general, to reduce negativity. ***This is almost always a crippling mistake.***
This fresh start is usually accompanied by some assumption of blame by the target (again in an attempt to make the partner feel less guilty) AND it raises the bar for level of “acceptable abuse”. The target is now more invested in making the relationship “work” and there is some willful blindness to escalating abuse. In a way, the partner gets some degree of permission to misbehave. Witnesses also feel encouraged to overlook subsequent problems because now they are tacit partners in the abuse and to acknowledge the abuse would be to accept their own responsibility.
A journal would be a tangible trail of events which may influence the behavior of targets and witnesses. It need not be elaborate, even a couple of words and severity of incident would be enough to track abusive behavior. If things get resolved, it can be considered a learning tool, for problems overcome only make a relationship stronger.
If abuse gets worse, it might help decision making down the road. It might encourage the target to gather more tangible evidence and explore options. It might persuade witnesses to overcome their reluctance to engage, and rebut any false reassurances that the target is exaggerating.
A notebook, a diary, entries in Evernote – anything would be better than the fog of confusion and misery which is the usual pattern of long term abuse. It doesn’t force any other action, it is merely documenting the truth of events. In my opinion, it’s a solid first step to making good decisions.