Want to end digital harassment? Document it.
It’s embarrassing. It’s horrifying. It takes up untold mental real estate.
I’m talking about being cyber-harassed by someone you used to love. Relentlessly. You ended a relationship only to have it be the beginning of another kind of relationship. One conducted entirely via text, voice call, email or social media. Usually, you’re tormented by some combination of the bunch.
Always, the content is meant to intimidate, diminish and otherwise gut your sense of self and confidence. And at volume, it often works.
The insults, the threats, the never-ending effort to undermine. Multiple messages via multiple channels. Every. Single. Day.
In the beginning, you think “This is crazy. There is no way s/he can keep this kind of madness up. Who has the time or energy to write this much garbage every day?”
And then years go by.
Oh. My. God.
If you can get past your shame to tell someone what’s happening, there’s no way to accurately capture what it’s like to live with a constant digital drip of abuse. If you share children with your harasser, then you’re obligated to keep at least one channel open, supposedly to discuss all things child-related including visitation and exchange. Except…
Except it’s some kid-dialogue thrown in between the name-calling, threats and intimidation in an attempt to keep the communication legit. Your lawyer/mediator/counsellor will tell you not to respond – that what your ex wants is to be engaged, so under no circumstances should you give him or her what they want and keep the dialogue alive. Ignore! Shut it down!
It’s excellent advice. Respond only to specific enquiries about the kids and absolutely nothing else.
Even if you have the discipline not to respond, all that “stuff,” it still drops into your being. You may not be “participating” but it’s still getting on you.
And frankly, you get used to it and lose perspective. Because there’s a very good chance the digital abuse is criminal. If you’ve ever felt scared or threatened by the communications - it is.
So, what CAN you do?
To defend and protect yourself (and your children) in this kind of situation, document, document, document. Track every communication – theirs and yours in return. Yes, even the times you lose it and behave badly too. Under the circumstances? Entirely defensible.
Digital harassment is one of those uniquely unfair situations where the victim is forced to carry the burden of proof. It’s up to you to prove that what’s happening to you is real and is criminal. You’re already flattened trying to cope with your children, your job, your life and now you’ve got to manage the stream of abuse too. Another “job.”
And yet, you’ve got to do it. Because with documentation, comes power.
Thorough documentation means you can start making different choices. It can be the foundation of a Restraining or No Contact Order, for instance, with consequences for contacting you about anything other than issues directly related to the children.
A complete “abuse record” can be the basis of a court order requesting supervised visitation a mental health assessment, sole custody or an Emergency Protection Order if you’re really feeling unsafe. It could also be the evidence you need to lay criminal harassment charges, especially if there are threats to kill or harm.
If you’re still negotiating the terms of a separation, divorce and/or parenting agreement or being intimidated or coerced into signing something not in your or your children’s best interests, thorough documentation is also the foundation you and your lawyers need to make decisions.
If the journey feels overwhelming and lonely, that’s because it is. All that “abuse management” is entirely on you, and few, if any, in your circle will really understand what you’re going through. But the consequences of not tracking are dire: unless you have solid evidence with which to take action, there’s an excellent chance the harassment will never change or go away.
It’s unrealistic and pure fantasy to think you can simply ignore it and ‘get on with your life,’ or think the harassment will magically end on its own. It can go on for YEARS.
Yes, it often continues even when s/he finds someone new.
What can change the game? Record all calls and voicemails, including calls with your children if necessary. Track ALL the texts and emails. It will take hours of your life every week to collect and manage, but you can finally turn the tide as a result.
The sooner you take control, the sooner you get some semblance of your life back. Document it all. You’ve got this.