I’m going to circle back and talk more about increasing your own personal safety. I know this isn’t fun to read about. I know some of you will think, “I don’t need to read this – I’m safe where I am. Nothing she will write will apply to me.” I truly hope you are safe now. But it can’t hurt to read it, right? And you may meet somebody who really needs to know all this.
Okay, on to the tough stuff.
First of all, you need to keep good records about any kind of harassment. Good documentation will make it somewhat more likely that the authorities will take you seriously and may help you spot a pattern to the harassment. It can also be used to frighten your abusers – I’ll get on to that later.
You can get a separate notebook to record incidents and keep it with you. Each time something suspicious happens, note the date, time, place, who was present, what happened, what action you took. List, by name, anybody involved that you know. If you don’t recognize anybody, you can add a guess as to who might be responsible. Make sure you separate the facts from conjectures. You can also add how it affected you – whether you had panic attacks or nightmares afterwards, etc.
I’ve found a lot of people are reluctant to do this. “It’s too much work, there’s no need to write it down because I am sure I will remember, it’s embarrassing to stop what I am doing and write stuff down;” all sorts of good reasons not to start this project. Chances are there are parts inside who are frightened and need reassurance. Ask inside what is scary about writing down upsetting things. If you get an answer, take it seriously, and try and get a little more information before you jump in with reassurance. You may not get the most important fear first.
Actually, this response is normal. People who are trying to lose weight are often told to keep a food dairy. They find it’s really hard to make themselves do it. I think that’s because part of them knows they eat a lot more than they admit to themselves. If they do write it all down, they are shocked to find out the truth.
In the same way, keeping records will serve as a reality check and, if you are being harassed, help break through any denial you may have. It will draw your attention to the environment and may help you become more alert. It may also frighten you deeply if the harassment is severe. You can’t forget the incidents as soon as they happen because they are down in black and white.
After a while you may find a pattern. This is an invitation to change your routine; go places at a different time, take a different route, go with a friend. They aren’t omniscient, and unless you tell them, they won’t know where to find you. They are just human beings, like you and me, and can’t read minds or predict the future. For example, if you go to the supermarket every Friday at 6 PM, go before work or school. They will still be asleep or having their morning coffee.
These records can be used to tell your abusers, “back off.” Basically, you take advantage of their fears and use the records to threaten them.
It’s a good idea to make several copies of your documentation. Attach a statement that you are not suicidal and that if you die in an accident it should be investigated thoroughly. Copies should be kept in different places: your therapist’s files, an attorney’s office, or a safe deposit box are all good choices. If you have good friends, they can be given a copy, too. If you have chosen to go to the police, they should get a copy of each incident.
The reasoning behind this is that your abusers do not want to get caught. Even if they are questioned and then let go, it really upsets them. And they will get in big trouble with other members of the cult.
Don’t spend any energy trying to keep this project secret! If word gets back, it may well make them stop harassing you. So once you have a record of several incidents, you may get up the courage to find a way to let them know what you are doing. That might be giving a copy to a friend you aren’t sure is safe, talking about it over the phone if you think your phone might be tapped, writing about it on your blog, or even broadcasting it on Facebook or Twitter. That will stop them from seeing you as a helpless victim; you obviously are somebody who can think, reason, and take effective action!
And perhaps you won’t find anything at all suspicious to record. Wouldn’t that be absolutely wonderful!
In the coming weeks, I’ll be writing about other practical things you can do to help protect yourself, most probably with breaks for other topics.
If anybody has tried this, write us a comment – we would love to hear what happened.