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Know a victim of domestic abuse? Here’s how to help them

Domestic abuse is a terrible cycle. Victim advocates say it takes an average of seven events before the injured person tries to leave an abusive situation for good.

The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence estimates nearly 20 people are physically abused by an intimate partner in the U.S. every minute. Over the course of one year, that would amount to 10 million women — and, yes, men too.

So, it’s important to tell you about an invaluable free service for victims that helps ensure abusers are more likely to be punished. It’s especially necessary now because of the steep rise in these crimes during the pandemic’s forced isolation. The idea is to give victims a way to secretly document abuse so offenders can be more easily prosecuted.

The idea was the brainchild of the late Susan Murphy-Milano, who endured years of violence by her father. He was a decorated detective with the Chicago Police Department who repeatedly threatened the family, violently attacked his wife, Roberta, and vowed to kill her if she tried to leave. In 1989, Susan discovered her murdered mother’s body and her father dead by suicide. Susan set out to change the way society looked at domestic violence and, among other accomplishments, established the online reporting space called DocumentTheAbuse.com. Susan died of cancer in 2012.

Her reporting site for victims lives on today with Norma Peterson at the helm. She and Susan bonded during the murder trial of former Illinois cop Drew Peterson, Norma’s brother-in-law, who was found guilty of the 2003 murder of his third wife, Kathleen. That crime wasn’t prosecuted until after Peterson was implicated in the disappearance of his fourth wife, Stacy, in 2007. Her body has never been found.

But back to the service provided by DocumentTheAbuse.com. Since cellphone activity can easily be traced by a controlling abuser, victims are instructed to carefully seek out a safe computer — at a library, church, cafe or trusted friend’s home — and register on the site with a username and password.

On the site, the victim is walked through filling out what’s called an evidentiary abuse affidavit, or an EAA, to confidentially document the date and time of every abusive act.

“This is a log that cannot be disputed,” Norma explained to me, and it lives on in the awful event that the victim does not. Simply telling a friend or leaving a note saying, “If something happens to me, it’s because of my ex” is valuable, but it could be considered hearsay and may not stand up in court.

The EAA asks for the abuser’s photo, date of birth, social security number, place of work and whether there are guns in the house. If there are police or hospital reports (including photos of injuries), the victim is asked to upload them or provide file numbers, which can be easily retrieved later. The most important last step is to click a link and record a short video recounting the EAA information and other pertinent details.

I set up a mock page and found the site simple to navigate, and the step-by-step system is completely free and confidential. It’s also designed to be updated, which, Norma says, not only creates a legal document (once notarized) but also serves to highlight for the victim how abuse escalates. A push is followed by a slap is followed by a punch in the face or attempted strangulation.

“We have seen easily a 200% increase in the last year of people going to fill this out,” Norma said when asked about the rise of domestic abuse during the pandemic. “And thousands and thousands are looking at the site on a weekly basis.” She says DocumentTheAbuse.com has attracted interest from “around the country” and at least two foreign countries.

Just think if the still-missing Stacy Peterson had had this resource. Perhaps she could have found the courage to escape her abusive relationship and level charges against Drew Peterson.

Countless domestic abuse victims are too embarrassed and ashamed to share their secret with others. But DocumentTheAbuse.com makes it an easy, private exercise. Please pass on this information.

Now Norma hopes to get the word out nationwide. Who knows, it might even be adopted worldwide. Wouldn’t that cement Susan Murphy-Milano’s place in the history books of victim advocacy?

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To find out more about Diane Dimond, visit her website at www.dianedimond.com. Her latest book, “Thinking Outside the Crime and Justice Box,” is available on Amazon.com. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.

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