There are a number of ways you can begin to document abuse. Documentation is very important if you want to pursue legal protection, and it is a good tool to help you begin to deal with the abuse in your life.
Keep a Personal Log
A personal log or journal will help you record incidents including witnesses or other evidence in an organized, comprehensive manner. The goal is to go back in time and write down things that have happened in the past with as many details as you can remember. The following is a list of things to include in your personal log that will help you organize the incidents you wish to record:
- Date of incident
- Time of incident
- Approximate length of time incident lasted
- Location of incident
- Name of abuser
- What abuser DID to you
- What abuser SAID to you
- How you felt as a result of incident
- List of witnesses, pictures, medical records, or any other information you have about the incident
Start with the most recent incident of abuse and record everything that was said or done in as much detail as you can remember. Then on a separate log, record the next most recent incident, and so on.
While it is important to write down everything you can remember, don't be frustrated if you cannot remember every detail. When the abuse has lasted a long time, it is sometimes difficult to remember exact dates; that's okay -- just get as close to the actual date as you can. Looking at a calendar can be helpful as you try to estimate the exact date of the incident. Also remembering things such as special events that occurred around the time of the incident like holidays or birthdays, what house you lived in, the season of the year, whether you were pregnant at the time, and the ages of your children at the time can help you pinpoint the date of the abuse.
You may feel overwhelmed during the process of writing everything down. During these times, you may want to call a supportive friend or family member or a hotline. You can also use a tape recorder and then write down the information you recorded.
If you are with your abuser during this time, be sure your logs/tapes/etc. are in a safe place where the abuser will not find them. These belong to you, and your abuser has no right to them.
You may want to ask someone you trust (a friend, an advocate, hospital staff, etc.) to take a picture of any visible injuries you may have as a result of the abuse. This is especially important if you want to seek legal protection. Instant pictures (like Polaroids) that cannot be altered in developing provide better evidence, although they tend to fade over time more than regular film. However, instant pictures are the most confidential and are usually adequate for use by the courts and Prosecutor's Office. Regular film is also an option, but consider carefully where it will be developed because others will see your pictures.
It may be necessary to take a series of pictures over a period of time to give the full effect of the injuries. It is helpful if the same person takes the pictures, but it is not absolutely necessary. Whoever takes the pictures must sign and date each one. Make sure at lease one picture includes your face to connect the injury to the person. A camera or video recorder can be used to document damage to property.
The person taking your pictures should know that you may need him/her as a witness in the future. You can testify to the authenticity of the pictures, but having another person testify may help your legal case.
Keep your pictures in a safe place where they will not be found and/or destroyed by your abuser.
Talk With Witnesses
If there were any witnesses to the abuse -- people who saw the incident, directly heard what occurred, or saw the resulting injuries -- you may want to find out how they could be reached if you need them to be called to testify on your behalf. Ask them to write down a description of what happened, and have them sign and date their statement. If the police are called, you may want to direct the police to any possible witnesses for questioning.
Get Medical Treatment
If you or your child is injured, it may be a good idea to seek medical treatment in order to get the necessary care and to document the abuse. Sometimes injuries sustained in abusive situations are not obvious, but they may be serious such as internal, head, or eye injuries. Even if you think you are not seriously hurt, medical reports may help show what happened.
According to Section 3727.08 of the Ohio Revised Code, health care providers are required to talk with you about your injuries and how they were sustained. This must be done privately and away from your partner and/or other family members. Also according to Ohio Law, hospitals are supposed to take pictures of the physical results of abuse and keep these pictures in your medical file. This is helpful even if you have already taken your own pictures of the same injuries.
Remember that health care professionals are legally required to report any injuries children sustain from abuse to the police and/or protective services. Hospitals are also required to report any injuries resulting from stabbings, gunshot wounds, or first and second degree burns.
File a Police Report
When domestic violence occurs, you may decide to tell the police and ask them to file a report. The police may investigate and ask you for a statement. If they do not voluntarily take pictures of injuries or property damage that resulted from the abuse, ask them to do so and to keep these pictures in the police report. If they have reasonable grounds to suspect domestic violence occurred, they may decide to charge your abuser with the crime, even if you do not want them to.
** Make sure to keep any evidence you have collected in a safe place.