Protecting yourself from abusive individuals
By Robin (PSY)
Most of us have been confronted by another person, either physically or verbally. As scary as those moments can be, the events following the confrontation can be even more frightening. What do you do when someone continuously harasses or threatens you? Is there anything you can do to stop your abuser, even if they haven't physically harmed you? The simple answer is yes! There are several steps you can take to make someone leave you alone.
Inform your loved ones. It’s not uncommon for victims of abuse to remain silent when around family members, friends, teachers, co-workers, and romantic partners. Sometimes, silence is maintained because the victim doesn’t want to be perceived as “weak” or “dramatic”. Other times, silence is maintained because the victim doesn’t believe anything will be accomplished by talking about the situation. They may fear being called a liar after sharing their story, or they may fear retaliation if their abuser finds out they told anyone. These are all things your abuser wants you to believe – he or she wants you to feel helpless and alone. You are NOT alone, though, and you have a supportive network of people to rely upon during this difficult time in your life. If you are a minor, your parents can screen phone calls for harassing or threatening messages, as well as ensure you won’t be left home alone if your abuser has threatened physical harm. Friends can escort you to and from school, offer support in the event of a confrontation, and serve as witnesses to the abuse later on. Teachers and co-workers can assist you if the abuser is a classmate, fellow employee, or customer. Finally, romantic partners can provide stability and comfort during a time of instability and unrest.
Gather evidence of the abuse. If you have been physically abused, take pictures of any bruises or cuts that resulted from the attack. Text messages, recorded voice messages, recorded video footage, e-mails, chat conversations, and letters can all be saved as proof of harassment and/or abuse. If you believe the abuser will contact you again, consider purchasing a recording device (such as a small tape recorder or digital camera with a video recording option) and keeping it with you at all times. Should you be contacted by your abuser in person, you can begin recording the conversation. If you receive a call from your abuser, you can put him or her on speaker phone and begin recording the conversation. You can also use family members, friends, and other individuals as witnesses to the abuse.
Inform the proper authorities. There are many victims who do not want to get the police, child protective services, and other government agencies involved for a number of reasons. You may have been told that police officers are idiots and won’t do anything to help. While there are some incompetent or irresponsible people on the police force, there are also many people who genuinely care about the victims of crimes and want to assist in any way they can. If your complaint is not taken seriously the first time, do not hesitate to return to the police station the next day and speak to another member of the police force. Do not give up until your voice has been heard! The same thing applies for teachers, school administrators, social workers, counselors, doctors, and other individuals who are required to assist victims. Once an adequate advocate has been found, you will find that many more options can become available to you.
File an order of protection. Depending on where you live, this legal document may be called a restraining order, a non-molestation order, an occupation order, or something else entirely. An order of protection forces the abuser to follow certain rules, and should they violate those rules, they may face time in jail. Orders of protection vary in each state and country, but here is a list of some of the rules an abuser may have to abide by:
The abuser must cease hurting or threatening the victim.
The abuser must physically stay away from the victim, regardless of where the victim is.
The abuser must cease all contact with the victim, whether it be via phone, e-mail, fax, letters, or even delivery of items to the victim’s place of residence.
The abuser must continue to provide financial support, depending on the circumstances.
The abuser must forfeit use of certain shared items, depending on the circumstances.
The abuser must pay for medical costs or property damage that the victim would have otherwise been responsible for.
The abuser must relinquish any weapons.
The abuser must attend a treatment program, depending on the circumstances.
The abuser must cease contact with the victim’s children, if he or she is a legal guardian.
The definition of "abuse" may vary depending on where you live, but oftentimes, a person does not have to be physically harmed in order to be considered a victim of abuse. Merely threatening to harm someone in the immediate future can fall under the legal definition of "abuse". In addition, you do not always have to be married to or living with your abuser in order to obtain an order of protection.
Use common sense! Filing police reports and orders of protection against an abuser may not always deter him or her from attempting to contact you. Do not allow yourself to be left alone if you believe the abuser may attempt to retaliate. Do not agree to meet with the abuser, unless you are being escorted by a trusted adult. Do not attempt to gather your personal belongings from the abuser’s apartment or home when you believe they are not around – nothing in this world is more important than your well-being! Do not attempt to negotiate with the abuser or resolve matters on your own – that is what the police and court officers are for. Finally, if you do not feel safe in your current place of residence, do not hesitate to seek temporary housing elsewhere, regardless of whether or not there is any evidence that the abuser will attempt to contact you. Ask if you can stay with an extended family member or friend (that the abuser has not met) until things settle down. If your options are limited, contact local government agencies and see if it would be possible to find low-cost housing or stay at a battered victims’ shelter for a few days. You can also call toll-free hotlines and inquire about resources in your area.