Globally, 35% of women suffer domestic violence, making it arguably the most prevalent form of violence against women. Even after escape, women often find themselves embroiled in complex legal proceedings for a criminal case against their abuser, child custody, asylum or divorce.
Recently, Chayn, the volunteer run charity I run, launched “How To Build Your Own Domestic Violence Case Without A Lawyer”, a one-of-a-kind tool women can use to safely collect and document evidence for legal purposes without a lawyer. Despite popular opinion, support for women suffering abuse remains scarce even in developed countries. (E.g. In the UK, more than a third of victims cannot provide the evidence required to obtain legal aid.)
Taking the decision to leave is a huge and often very difficult step, but the guide presents an easy-to-follow plan for women in three main stages:
Collecting Evidence of Abuse
Collecting evidence of abuse, while undoubtedly one of the most important things she can do, is sometimes the last of a woman’s concerns. It is so easy to look over things that have gradually become normal to a victim of systematic domestic abuse. For instance, receiving messages that say: “You’re a disappointment. I will teach you a lesson” or seeing 70 missed calls when you leave the house can become part of a routine. But, to a judge, these are all key pieces of evidence.
Making Sense of What Has Happened
For a victim of domestic violence, the decision to leave and the aftermath that follows, is one of the most distressing and tumultuous times. This, again, is a ripe time to collect and document the manipulative nature of the abuser.
Presenting The Evidence
No one knows the brutal nature of abuse more than the survivor but memories can be painful to recount, especially when there is a hostile audience, e.g. police, judge. The guide helps women build timelines, organize evidence into clearly marked categories, and lay out all the important information in the most organized manner to help authorities make sense of it as well as to refer to it herself. When someone has taken away your agency, pride, esteem and dignity for some time, having your account questioned can be harrowing and discourages women from claiming their rights.
While the guide is not meant to replace legal counsel or be taken as a legal advice, the advice on structure and representation should be useful to most jurisdictions. We know a few people will say that this isn’t the ideal solution as each case is different and women should contact their local NGO. While this is true – the sad reality is that many women don’t get that far. They might be scared of being found out, not have made up their mind or cannot afford legal counsel. This guide helps those women and as a survivor put it, this guide is a ‘tool for survival’.
You can find the full guide here: http://bit.ly/chayndvguide.
*Hera Hussein is 25 year old feminist and founder of a global network of volunteers that work on projects that leverage tech to empower women: Chayn.