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When an Abuser Controls the Story

Abusers lie about incidents before you have a chance to tell your side

By Shelley Flannery | DomesticShelters.org

For a host of reasons—shock, embarrassment, guilt, shame, safety—it’s difficult enough to come forward about being abused. Add in the fact that the abuser is spreading lies to make it seem like you’re the problem, and it may seem as though no one will ever believe you.

It happens all too often, as evidenced by these comments on our social media pages:

“I went to my church a year before and asked for help. They tried but eventually stopped. When I finally got a restraining order, he immediately called our pastor and said, ‘She kicked me out of the house! I can’t see my kids! She even has a non-Christian lawyer.’” — Caroline A. 

“Every time he gets violent, he starts yelling for me to leave him alone, making it look like he is being abused. Or he calls his family and complains about me to them.” — AmyLee S.

“This person my friend knows goes live on Facebook to tell his side of the story immediately after an incident. He talks about how great of a father he is, how he’s never hurt his girlfriend, how he works so hard to provide for her and her son, etc.—all to make sure he gets to control the narrative of what happened.” — Name withheld

“He is an officer in the Air Force and his physical abuse started after we got married and I moved to the U.S. for him. So everyone we knew were his coworkers. He told people that I was emotionally abusive and that he only hurt me physically to defend himself. He’d tell people I was hysterical and attacking him and he only restrained this ‘out-of-control woman’ for her own good. Me trying to hide and lock myself in the bathroom with a flashlight was told as me trying to ‘threaten him with a weapon.’ Me crying on the couch after he pulled out my hair turned into me ‘jumping him.’ I wasn’t the one with a decade of martial arts and combat training…” — Sarah K. 

Another Form of Control
Abusers will often “get in front of a story” and lie about what happened in order to protect themselves from getting in trouble, gain favor among family and friends, or simply make a survivor look bad. Whatever the reason, it’s all about control.

“Controlling the narrative is another way of isolating someone—to portray them in a negative or condescending light in front of others,” says Rajeh Saadeh, a family law attorney in New Jersey. “If they control the narrative, whether to the authority or friends and family, it can cause victims to not come forward.”

What You Can Do
If you’re ready to come forward, don’t let an abuser’s lies deter you. When it comes to reporting abuse to the authorities or preparing for a civil court case, it can help to keep a journal of incidents or confide in a friend (see list of 23 Ways Survivors Can Collect Evidence of Abuse). Having something to look back at or someone to talk to when you’re doubting yourself or trying to recall details, can assist you in conveying your story.

Just be cognizant, Saadeh says, that anything you write down pertaining to a case is “discoverable,” meaning it may need to be entered as evidence and shared with an abuser’s lawyer.

On the social front, start with the person you trust the most and tell him or her your side of the story. Or at least lay the groundwork.

“You may want to just say they haven’t been told the whole story and that when you’re ready to tell them what actually happened, you will,” Saadeh says. “That should at least put some doubt in their mind about what the abuser is telling them, and make them a willing listener when the time comes.”

Not sure where to turn? Read “When Your Support System Isn’t Clear” for more advice.

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