What does documentation of abuse by a survivor mean?

As a mental health practitioner, you can advise your clients on what steps they can take to document abuse as survivors
What does documentation of abuse by a survivor mean?

If your client is in an abusive relationship and is in the process of taking (or deciding to take) legal action against their abusive partner or family member, documentation of the abusive behaviors can be an important component of their case.

Clients could be encouraged to preserve texts, mails, call logs as evidence. If feasible, they can audio/ video record the incident. But, it is essential to not increase their risk of being harmed while doing so. Here are some ways they can document abuse—

Keeping a log of all incidents, even if they are not sure if they want to involve the police, is a good idea. Some of the information they might want to include is the date, time, location, officer’s information (if reported to the police), witnesses (if any), people involved and a brief description of what the abuser did.

Pictures: If possible, your client could take pictures of their injuries, or house objects that were broken or torn by the abuser. A digital camera or a phone camera may not always be safe—if possible to access, disposable cameras are an option instead. Another option is for someone else to take the pictures, and keep them for the client.

Emails: Encourage them to save emails by taking print outs or screen shots of the emails with the headers (for IP information). Forwarded emails will lose the identifying information needed for evidence. Saving emails about transactions, payments, deductions can help document financial abuse.

Text messages: If your client is receiving threatening texts from the abuser, those messages can act as evidence. Text messages may be deleted automatically, if the phone runs out of space. Taking a screenshot of the text and the phone number to retain as evidence is an option.

Phone calls: The abuser might be calling the client repeatedly, that call log can be evidence. They can keep phone records to show the number of the originating call, date, and time. They could also record the phone conversations but the voice should be clear, the whole conversation needs to be recorded, and the recorded device must be sealed and kept in safe custody to prevent tampering.

It is important to save these files at a place which is not accessible to the abuser. The evidence can be saved in an alternate phone that the abuser does not know about or that can be kept safe with a trusted co-worker, friend or relative.

Related
What does documentation of abuse by a mental health practitioner mean?
What does documentation of abuse by a survivor mean?

Handling abuse-related trauma in therapy is a series by White Swan Foundation in collaboration with Shakti. This series is a guide for mental health practitioners to help survivors of abuse heal with therapy. This series refers to survivors as women, however, we acknowledge that survivors can belong to any identity. The usage of the word "women" has been used to reflect laws that are focused on women as survivors of domestic violence, and other guidelines that are framed keeping women in mind.

Written by Bhumika Sahani, journalist and social worker by training; consultant at Shakti; and Dr Parul Mathur, resident doctor, Department of Psychiatry, NIMHANS

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