A dear friend called yesterday to chat about a friend of hers who was going through a lot of what I endured a year ago. She was being harrassed by her ex-husband to the point she filed for a restraining order.
What struck me was the fact that in many states—her state, as well—evidence of physical abuse is the only type of evidence admissible in court. Thankfully, even though the evidence didn't show "physical" abuse, the judge granted a restraining order.
It's widely known that many who verbally and emotionally abuse progress to some sort of physical abuse. It was something MANY loved ones in my life were very concerned about with regards to what I allowed and endured for three years. I can't say I didn't worry about it, as well. I did. I can count at least five women I know in the US right now who recently sat in front of a judge, pleading the case for protection, and worried whether or not they would get it. I was one of those women.
What I've learned through this process (and through talks with other women dealing with verbal and emotional abuse) is the burden of proof is always on the woman. I was lucky because R decided to send emails sharing my blog post about our relationship to the president of the university where I work, as well as about 50 others whom I'm guessing he thought were part of HR but were actually part of a group called IHD, Institute for Human Development. His intention, of course, was to get me fired from my job for openly sharing details of our relationship including how we met, and what transpired. He also threatened in a direct email to me to "not stop until he had justice, " because I was speaking out about the abuse like none before me had done. This evidence was essential to outcome of my case. Had I not had this in writing, it would have made things much more difficult.
What surprised me most is that the police report documenting a domestic violence call where the maintenance man in our apartment complex called law enforcement after hearing him yelling at me and hearing me crying was not admissible. The reason, the judge cited, was because the event occured more than a year before I showed up in court. My mind was blown. So let's say you have a DV report for physical abuse, in AZ, it would not be accepted as proof if it happened over a year ago.
It's really difficult for many survivors (me, included) to get to the point of entering the court system for a number of reasons, so to punish them for a lapse in time makes no sense to me and is contributing to the number of women suffering MORE abuse because they can't legally protect themselves. According to a recent study by the CDC, nearly half of all murdered women are killed by romantic partners. This is unacceptable.
One thing is clear: reform is needed. Lives are being destroyed on so many levels and the only way to know for sure you can protect yourself is to have written proof that is NOT a year old.
If you are in this position right now, make sure you document everything. Everything. Screenshots. Save emails. Save texts.
While protective orders don't ensure safety, they do put more power back in the hands of the abused. I carry my restraining order with me at all times. If needed, I can immediately call law enforcement and no questions will be asked—actions will be taken if the order is violated.
While we've come a long way—the #MeTOO movement helping shine a light on the epidemic of abuse—we still have a long way to go. I, for one, am ready to help make court system change that is needed to help protect abuse survivors.
Have you gone through this or are going through it? Or did you ultimately decide not to go down the legal path; however, you're still fearing for your safety? Please share your experience— anonymously, if you'd like.