Can Emotional Abuse be Used in a Domestic Violence Case?
Domestic violence is defined broadly under California law and includes emotional abuse, which is often overlooked. Any behavior or language used with the intent to dominate, frighten, or control another person via the use of fear falls under this category. Physical injuries, sexual assaults, threats, stalking, and other offenses not involving physical contact are considered forms of domestic violence under California law.
When a person is threatened with significant physical harm, it is considered emotional abuse if the victim has reason to fear for their safety due to the threat. California law recognizes non-physical forms of abuse because they typically contribute to wider patterns of abuse that aim to dominate the other person through fear. In contrast, the laws of many other states only recognize physical forms of domestic violence.
How to Prove Non-Physical Abuse in Court
Some victims of domestic violence have bruises, scars, and black eyes that they can show in court as proof of the abuse. They have medical records and 911 calls that were recorded. But for people who have been abused in ways that aren’t physical, like verbal, psychological, emotional, or financial abuse, there is often little or no proof other than what they say they went through. So how can these victims prove to the court? Some ways of getting evidence include:
- Keeping a diary.
A diary may be a useful tool for keeping track of incidents of emotional abuse. You should document the abusive comments, the date, and the emotional response. Make sure to write down the names of any witnesses as well.
Keeping a diary may also give you a healthy outlet and a way to cope with emotional abuse. But watch out that you don’t just leave the diary sitting around. If you and your abuser share living quarters, they can access the diary.
You may use a digital journal instead of a clothbound one. Utilize a mobile device like a smartphone or laptop to jot down notes, then save them digitally. Finding your notes on a digital device is far more difficult, particularly if password secured.
- Preserving abusive interactions.
You should save any letters, emails, notes, and voicemails containing abusive language from your abuser. This proof will assist you in proving the perpetrator’s conduct in the future.
If you reside with the abuser, ask a trusted friend or relative to save copies of these messages.
- Getting checked out.
Physical manifestations of emotional abuse include worry, eating disorders, low self-esteem, hypertension, depression, and heart disease. Even though being emotionally abused is a severe matter independent of physical symptoms, such symptoms can strengthen your court case.
The emotional abuse you’ve been experiencing should be discussed with your doctor. If you inform your doctor, they may write a record in your file. You can prove the link between your emotional maltreatment and your physical symptoms by providing a copy of your medical records.
- Communicating your emotions to others.
Admitting you’re in an abusive relationship is never easy. You could be afraid that the abuser would harm you physically. A witness, however, may vouch for your claims of abuse. Try to rely on someone else’s advice. An abuser who learns that his victim has complained about him may retaliate. Share your experience of emotional abuse with at least one reliable person.
All these actions will help you develop physical evidence to give to the court.
Fighting Accusations of Emotional Abuse
There are actions you may take to defend yourself against these accusations if you have been charged with domestic violence in California and the alleged abuse included non-physical means. Prosecutors must provide evidence to support their claims before they can assert that you violated the law because your spouse felt intimidated. Keep in mind that to establish emotional abuse as a crime, prosecutors must demonstrate the following:
- Your spouse had a valid worry that you may hurt them because of your words or actions, and you meant for them to have this fear.
Therefore, a strong defense against these accusations is often made by producing information disproving one or both aspects. A few common defenses are:
- Your statements were not meant to cause harm; you did not mean it.
- You had no idea the other person was afraid for their safety due to your actions or comments.
- You did not make a legitimate threat.
- You didn’t mean to go through on your threat.
- You didn’t try to go through with the threat.
- There was no physical interaction. (Prosecutors find it simpler to “add on” emotional abuse when there is additional physical violence proof. It is more difficult to establish emotional abuse without physical proof.)
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Seppi Esfandi is an Expert Attorney who has over 21 years of practice defending a variety of cases.