Here are links to this entire series:
Part 1: My story of abuse (Introduction)
Part 2: Seven things you need to know about abusers
Part 3: Dealing with victims of abuse
Part 4: It started with a crossword puzzle
Part 5: Getting help for an abuse victim
Part 6: Taking the next step
Part 7: My church’s initial response to abuse
Part 8: Your marriage counselor may destroy your marriage
Part 9: Cutting off communication
Part 10: How to choose sides in an abusive situation
Part 11: The strangeness of a spring break
Part 12: Filings for divorce and early rumblings at church
Part 13: What are those deacons good for anyway?
Part 14: The “repentance” game
Part 15: Isolation
Part 16: When the church goes off the rails
Part 17: When the church goes off the rails even further
Part 18: Final church problems
Part 19: How to neutralize an abuser
Part 20: The saga concludes
Part 21: Updates
Part 22: The very end
At the end of my last post, I mentioned that we had tried to work with the victim specifically in the area of boundaries but to no avail. He simply had too much power over her. It was time to move to a new strategy and that is what I am going to discuss today.
I told you I am no expert in this and I was even less of an expert then. However, we sort of lucked into something big that I want to pass onto you: you need to collect evidence to turn around an abuse situation.
There is a very obvious reason why. Remember that victims are usually not held in captivity with handcuffs and rope. They are held captive with emotional control and other tactics. They feel powerless. They know for example that if they call the police, it is almost certain to be a “he-said, she-said” situation with little chance of relief and huge potential for more problems. For example, in the situation we worked with, the abuser would tell the victim that if she called the police, he would probably lose his job. (He was probably right about that.)
Collecting evidence shifts the power back to the victim both emotionally but also in other battlegrounds that count such as the legal system. It is a game changer.
If you suggest to a victim that she should start collecting evidence, don’t expect her to readily jump on board. She will be scared of getting caught and she may also see it as disloyal to her spouse. In the case we worked with, the victim admitted to us that she had taken pictures of evidence on her phone before but had deleted it because it felt disloyal to hang onto it. You may not understand that mindset but you should know it exists.
Eventually, we suggested to the victim that she start collecting evidence and even though we were inexperienced, she went along. For legal reasons, I could not be involved in setting anything up so she had to do it herself. We used basic, inexpensive technology. I won’t disclose it all but let’s just say it is stuff you can buy easily off Amazon. One item I will disclose is a small recorder that she would use in their home. She collected hours of evidence of his emotional and verbal abuse over the course of a few months.
It would be months before he would know almost any of that evidence existed and he still does not know everything she has. However, the fact that she had evidence began to help her understand that her situation was not hopeless. In early 2016, she was able to collect evidence of a certain issue and we decided it was time for her to confront him and try to reclaim her life. In other words, she was going to tell him what she knew and demand changes or she was leaving.
The confrontation went poorly. He acted as abusers act. At first, he lied. When confronted with evidence he could not deny, he found ways to deflect the blame back on her. Eventually she said what she had to say and left the house with him apparently resigned to knowing things had to change. However, within an hour, he was texting her incessantly, threatening to come find her and threatening to take the kids and leave her. She had no choice but to return and go right back into the abusive situation. We were with her when this was happening and felt utterly powerless.
I won’t go into all the details of the next few days but by the end of the week, the house had turned into a living hell and she knew she had to leave. By that time, her parents were involved and after he went to work on Friday, she left and drove to their house 900 miles away.
I know this sounds like a horrible story and you might be wondering if collecting evidence made matters worse. Initially, it most definitely did, but in the end, collecting evidence was the difference between her staying in the abusive situation or leaving. It was the catalyst that gave her the power to confront him and eventually see that she had to take the hard step of separation. If she had not done that, she would most definitely still be suffering under his roof today.
By the way, while collecting evidence was most beneficial in helping her regain emotional power, the collected evidence would come in very handy later as well when she eventually filed for divorce. Again, it is one thing to say your husband is an abuser but it is quite another to be able to prove it.
And so, at this point, the victim is “safely” at her parents house with their children and we all breathed a sigh of relief. However, the story is about to get considerably more interesting partly because my former church is finally about to make its grand entrance into the situation. Stay tuned for that.