Trigger warning: This is going to be a series of posts about domestic abuse, and things that have occurred to me in recent years. I am not going to name people, I am not going to give details. It’s simply to try and identify where - I believe - the system is failing to sign post and help people in these situations, and I am writing this to both hopefully help others in the same (or similar) situations, but also to try and give myself somewhere to … order my thoughts. The first post on this is here Domestic Abuse - In the beginning
Following on from my previous post, where I started out talking about my own exposure to some domestic abuse, I want to go on to talk about how you get help - the avenues you have, and some of the things you can do. And what you shouldn’t do - and more importantly, what you should (most likely) expect. I think much of this applies if you are a man, or a woman, suffering from domestic abuse to be honest, but I am going to comment on things at times from the female on male domestic abuse angle, given that is what I have experienced - and I do feel that there is a bias in the system (at least, I feel there is here in Scotland).
After you have experienced, and left, Domestic Abuse, it seems common that you will end up with harassment or stalking from the abuser. Perhaps this is to try and draw you back in, or to continue a cycle of abuse, who knows, but what I do know is that you need to be strong and be prepared for this. Police Scotland, and I am sure other forces, actually have a pretty good information pack on all of this but beyond arming yourself with knowledge and structuring your life for safety (more on that in a bit) you need to be mentally prepared.
Harassment and Stalking
From my discussions with the Domestic Abuse Advocacy Support Service, it seems that most cases they deal with involve an element of Harassment and Stalking - something mine has too.
Stalking is an extension of Harassment, as classified by both England and Wales and Scottish Law - so make sure you record all harassment events, keep clear evidence, time and date everything you can, and record how you feel. If something has put you in a state of alarm, it is important to document why, and how it has. If your abuser continues to do this (sadly, it needs to be a series of incidents, over a period of time), you can then report this to the police and progress it. As long as you have been clear that the contact is unwanted, have not retaliated you should find this is progressed. Depending on the severity, and how it is impacting you, your abuser may be given Bail conditions by the courts. These can actually be helpful in giving you a “safe area” - mental health is something I’m going to touch on in more detail - but you should always be aware that they might break these conditions. The only benefit there is that if they DO break bail conditions, the punishments should be swift and decisive.
It should be noted that stalking doesn’t have to come from domestic abuse; stalking can be instigated by many different people in your life - and its essentially unwanted contact after you have clearly made it clear you do not want that contact. It can be an ex-partner, someone you used to work with, someone from an education setting, or just someone who has taken an interest in you. Regardless, the contact is unwanted, and persistent and so counts as stalking and is something you do not deserve, and something that should be reported to the police if it is occurring.
One of the challenges with stalking for the police is some of the actions undertaken can be subtle, and intended only for the victim to fully comprehend (and therefore have a mental impact). Thee can be extremely difficult to document, and identify to the authorities in any serious way, but all I can advise is be persistent and make sure you explain any history in as much detail as you can to give them the “big picture” - make sure they have detail of all the history of events at every reporting encounter as often this information is not followed through each report.
In amongst the harassment you see, or receive, you will most likely encounter something called victim blaming. This is a technique where the abuser attempts to transfer the responsibility of their actions onto the victim; either through accusing them of triggering them to behave a certain way, or by arguing that you perhaps consented to much of the behaviour if you stayed in the abuse situation or returned to it. Additionally, you may find that people in your old friendship circle take the same attitude - blaming you in part for the abuse you suffered.
We are all responsible for our own actions and have a right to pursue what we want without abuse and suffering. We have a right to basic respect, and where this is not mutually given, it becomes difficult (to near impossible) to work a relationship correctly.
The last point I want to bring up about other people is … you may be approached by them with the suggestion to forgive your abuser, and to resume contact even. This is not a good idea for so many reasons, most importantly your own mental health; but the key thing I want to draw out of this is that no-one has the right to tell you to forgive your abuser. No-one knows, in full, what you will have gone through, the reasons you might have stayed in a situation, or what actually happened behind closed doors. You do not owe anyone an explanation for it, and you do not owe anyone anything - and you certainly do not deserve to put yourself through the mental torture it would be to regurgitate it all repeatedly. Most of all, you do not owe your abuser the reward of your contact. And you do not need them - or the contact - in your life – or anyone that insists upon it. It is perfectly ok for people to be in your life that are still talking to them, but try and make sure that they are aware of clear boundaries, and respect them. You will need to be firm, and prepared to remove people from your circle if they break them - and explain why. During your healing phase, you will need to put yourself first - and that is going to be difficult.
With all of this going on possibly for a prolonged period of time, it will happen at some point that you will need to contact them, or contact in some form will need to be made - perhaps you find some things of theirs to give back, you receive some post of theirs, or there are custody arrangements needing made for children. The advice for any contact seems to be simple - don’t do it yourself; use a third party. And if you DO have to do it directly, do not use the phone or any medium that can be deleted (so no Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc) but use e-mail. Personally I went one step further and used their solicitor as the middle person, via email, so everything had a record in the end as things were just getting twisted. No matter how you communicate, keep it brief and to the point - do not get dragged off the specific necessary topics, and try and keep emotion out of it.
A common thread of all the things I have heard is concerns around physical safety, and this has often gone to the point of temporary restraining orders, court conditions and more - but also personal attack alarms, CCTV and such. A lot of what will be recommended to you will depend on your own circumstances, but from my own experiences, I presume that you will have a degree of fear around your physical safety and the police will talk to you about ensuring you have relevant action plans in place.
Isolation, Mental Health
I had to ask people to stop telling me what was being posted; not interested - she has a life to lead as much as I do. You need to find a way to move on from the abuse, and the abuser, in any way that you can - and distancing yourself from both is part of what I found helps. For me, the ONLY thing I really cared about was if the explicit images got reposted … but I’ll come back to that at the end.
However, some people do not seem to understand this - and seem to think that I should be looking at social media constantly for mentions of my name, or inferences to history. Honestly? No. I shouldn’t. Because all that does is keep the pain alive. Keep the wounds open. You need to give them time to heal, as much as they ever will. Let’s be honest here. They will NEVER heal fully, but we can hope that they will close up enough for a normal enough life to be led. But this means you will most likely need to get ruthless with friends and family who (I pretty much guarantee to begin with) will insist on bringing you little titbits of information. You don’t need to know. You don’t want to know.
Let the police (and courts at this point no doubt), deal with your abuser - and you both lead separate lives.
However; you will probably want to restrict YOUR OWN social media posts. This is for two reasons. The first is to reduce information on what you are doing to be used, twisted and fed back in out-of-context ways to people around you in an attempt to further cause isolation. The second is to simply assist with your own physical safety (if that is a concern under the previous heading) as it makes it more difficult for chance encounters to be organised if no-one actually knows where you are - something social media is extremely good at giving away.
This does have the disadvantage of creating a significant degree of isolation if you allow it - something no doubt that your abuser is counting on to continue inflicting pain from afar. Do not allow it to do so. Removing social media does NOT need to isolate you; there are still ways to socialise which we all had before the advent of social media; simply fall back to these and continue socialising - continue meeting people, continue talking. Ensure that you engage with therapy where relevant, as this will most likely be necessary to stave off depression and other mental health issues both from isolation effects and the actual abuse - do not pretend that these are not there, or try and hide away from it.
ALL of this is going to take it’s toll on you. You are going to feel like you are on a mental rollercoaster. It’s going to hurt, in many ways. And you need to just cling on and find a way to get through it. Try and avoid or divert the extremely negative emotions, such as anger (which I guarantee you will feel at times), and don’t be hard on yourself. You are the victim in all of this, and will most probably have been conditioned and gaslit to believe that much of this is your own fault - do not fall into the belief that it actually is. This is all the aftermath of the abuse - and is psychological abuse - and living with it longer term will not be good for your mental or physical health.
and … Letting Go
Perhaps the biggest revelation for me has been about coming to terms with it all … and letting go. Letting go of that fear - the absolute terror - of the images being reposted somewhere. Because all that does is give control back to my abuser. It is no different to looking at their social media constantly for information on if they have posted something about me. It is giving them control.
It took me, literally, until two months ago to realise this. And I honestly really do kick myself that it took so long to actually grasp that fact that I was STILL giving control over. And why. The images were already out there. Seen by who knows how many people. IF they resurfaced, they were watermarked and it would be obvious where from - and that assumes I ever got to know about it properly.
Whatever abuse situation you have found yourself escaping you will no doubt need to work out what you need to let go of too. What you need to come to terms with. You will never be able to put things back in a box, never be able to be “safe” from them posting things online, or spinning a story in whatever slant they wish. But you CAN look after yourself, you CAN make sure that you are ok and not inflicting more unnecessary pain on yourself. And rebuild.
Finally, one thing I was made aware of is something called Claire’s Law. The Domestic Abuse Advisory Service mentioned this to me in passing, and I did look it up; this is a route where you can request information a partner (or a prospective partner) from the police to see if they have an abusive past and indicate to you if you are putting yourself in a position of danger. Honestly, this isn’t something I’d have ever considered before - but now, it IS something I would consider doing.
And something I would strongly recommend people consider applying for to see if there is any information on a partner - especially if you are entering a committed stage in your relationship. I certainly know this is something I would be freely open about allowing any future partner I might have to do on me, with my complete knowledge and in fact, almost insistence. It is not about stopping you being together, it is about giving you information that might actually help protect you.
I’ve tried to pull together some of the online forms I could find below in the References section, as they can be tricky to find on the websites, but most forces SHOULD have them. If not, you should always be able to request it by calling 101 in your area, under the “Right to know”.
One thing you might find yourself asking is … why me?
And one thing I’ve been told by a few agencies now is … stop trying to tie yourself up in knots trying to decipher an abusers intent working that out. There are so many possible reasons why you would be chosen for stalking, harassment, domestic abuse, or pretty much anything in amongst it all. But stop trying to get into their head, and working it out. All you will do is just continue to cause yourself grief and pain.
And it will not get you anywhere.
All you will do is continue to blame yourself for actions and outcomes. It’s really easy to blame yourself, when it is NOT you doing the actions. Are you the one going around stalking and harassing or abusing someone? No. You ARE NOT responsible for their actions, even if you have said, or done something a long time in the past - they have FULL control of their own behaviour and are making (or have made) choices.
It is not right or fair that you have been used and targeted. It is not fair that you are the one making changes to keep yourself safe, and break the abuse cycle. But the reality is that this is what people in these situations must do in order to remain safe and move on with their lives - as the stalkers and abusers will not move on themselves without being forced or having that connection broken in some way.
Let the police deal with them, and stop trying to apportion blame on yourself.