The world may have been shocked at the footage of Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice knocking out his then-fiancee Janay Palmer – but sadly, my PI colleagues were taking bets on when her ‘stand by your man’ statement would appear. We were proven right when she posted a statement on Instagram blaming media intrusion for making her life a nightmare.
Any investigator who handles domestic cases will be familiar with the domestic violence cycle – breaking up, followed by the abuser begging for forgiveness and promising to change, then the client dropping the case – rinse and repeat. Private investigators are only human, and it’s upsetting both professionally and personally when a the client tells me stories of horrific abuse, cruelty and infidelity and asks me to collect evidence – only to ultimately return to the relationship.
I always ask what the client plans to do with the information – and despite the fact that they assure me that they plan to leave their abuser, I estimate that between 50 and 60 percent waver in their decision and go back at some point – and about one in five of my clients go back permanently.
This is extremely frustrating for an investigator who has spent time building a case and wants to see the guilty party punished – but understanding how the cycle works is crucial to building a case. Several friends have asked me how I keep my sanity while attempting to support a client/friend/loved one while working a domestic case – following is my advice to them.
1. DO Accept that your loved one will drive you crazy
Be ready for your loved one to defend the abuser, bail him/her out of jail and inexplicably beg HIM for forgiveness. Remember that their self-esteem is at rock bottom – and in many cases, they may be embarrassed and/or blaming themselves.
It can be tough to keep an emotional distance – more than once I have hugged a client, then gone out to my car, shut the doors and screamed – but it’s necessary for survival.
2. DO Remember that abusers come in all shapes and sizes
Yes, abusers can be female too – and men on the receiving end are often especially eager to sweep everything under the carpet. In fact, one of the worst abusers that I have ever encountered was a five-foot-one woman who probably weighed 90 pounds soaking wet. Her husband was a huge Marine – but a gun is the ultimate equalizer.
3. DON’T demonize the abuser
When you are staring at a mug shot, remember that the abused person is poring over wedding photos and going through what we all experience at the loss of a relationship: The loss of the illusion of happily ever after. Calling someone a dirtbag or evil is indirectly an insult to the abused person – at least, they may take it that way – because they picked them.
Instead, try to introduce the idea of dealbreaker behaviors. No one is all good or evil – Jeffrey Dahmer had his tender moments and Ted Bundy could turn on the charm on the suicide crisis hotline, yet I think everyone will agree that murder is a dealbreaker. So is abuse. Blaming the behavior rather than the person will also make it easier when the abuser comes back and apologizes . . . which brings me to #4.
4. DO Document evidence
Often, during the ‘reconciliation’ phase, the abuser will convince the abused party to delete text messages, emails and photographs that document the abuse. Having a forwarded copy could prove crucial if and when s(he) finally decides to press charges.
5. DO be supportive – but DON’T insert yourself into the insanity.
Never, ever compromise your own safety: An objective third party such as law enforcement or a private investigator can conduct an investigation safely and legally. I have seen well-meaning friends and family move into the home to try and ‘keep an eye on things’, help cover up signs of abuse in front of law enforcement and even help buy pot to ‘calm down’ the abuser. Remember, enabling the abuse to continue will only make things worse in the end!