Helpful Tips and Strategies for Testifying in Court Against Your Abuser

Testifying in court against your abuser can be a highly anxiety provoking and daunting experience to face. It can be helpful to have some coping tools in order to feel prepared and keep some important ideas in mind to help yourself manage your stress and anxiety.

Whether you are facing a stranger, family member, or intimate partner who committed a crime against you, remember that you are NOT the one standing trial, it is the perpetrator of the crime(s) that is being held accountable by the state in which you live. This perpetrator is the person who should be feeling embarrassed or ashamed and receive appropriate punishment and consequences for their actions, not you.

Testifying in a court room is an important vehicle for you to have your voice heard and for justice to be served. It takes a lot of courage and bravery to face your abuser. This can serve tremendous benefits to society in helping to de-stigmatize crime victims and to spread awareness and decrease incidences of domestic violence, rape, sexual assault, harassment, and other forms of aggression and harmful, abusive behavior.  Testifying is a great way to regain your power because your abuser has been outed publicly. If someone else gets into a relationship with them a simple google search may help thwart future victims of that specific abuser.

Even if the perpetrator is found not guilty, remember that does not mean the crime did not occur. It simply means there may have been difficulties with the evidence and the manner in which is was presented.

Remember these concepts when preparing for the trial:

  1. While your District Attorney (DA) cannot provide you with the exact questions ahead of time, you know your story and it is perfectly okay to prepare telling your story. Sometimes traumatic memories can be hard to recall; so that is why it may help you to practice journaling and re-telling your narrative to help you get clarity of your memories as well as help you process through the emotions. You can practice with a trusted friend or therapist.
  2. Don’t worry about having emotions. It is normal and to be expected. You can always ask for a break if you are feeling intense emotions on the witness stand.
  3. If a question is confusing or seems unreasonable you can say you are confused, don’t understand the question, and ask for clarification or rephrasing of the question.
  4. Don’t lie if you are not certain, simply say you are not sure.
  5. There has been preliminary research in California courts on the benefits of some meditation apps called “Headspace” and “Calm” to help victims manage their feelings while preparing to testify.
  6. Remember that when you feel your heart racing to focus on your breath.
  7. Be kind to yourself and notice your self talk. Show yourself compassion by acknowledging you have been through a difficult and traumatic event or events, validate your feelings by saying “of course you’re having anxiety right now” instead of putting yourself down or telling yourself not to feel that way.
  8. Use your senses to ground yourself. Your mind and anxious thoughts may take you out of the present moment and have you worry about worst case scenarios that may not be likely. Those anxious thoughts will distract you from the present moment. Know that may happen and then practice bringing your awareness back to the present moment. It may feel like a back and forth game and that’s okay. Use your five senses to notice what is going on presently and don’t forget to breathe, breathe, and breathe.
  9. This too shall pass. Your voice will be heard. Hopefully, justice will be served and you will have peace from your abuser and they will be consequenced appropriately. And you can handle whatever the outcome will be.
  10. Become an advocate yourself for victims for domestic violence, sexual abuse or whatever you would be passionate in helping others overcome.
  11. It can be powerful for victims to share their stories to help other victims. You likely remember feeling ashamed, or could have been in various stages of denial and truly hoped it wouldn’t happen again. You may have kept your abuse a secret, gradually isolated, and worried that others wouldn’t believe you. It can be painful to face the reality of what you have experienced. However, when you share your story you will touch many other victims out there who will relate to your story and feel empowered to break the silence and get the help they need. You may actually save someone’s life.
  12. We must continue to work together to end the stigma, increase awareness, and increase conversations about all of these crimes that are abuses of power so that we can reduce the incidences of these crimes and live in a safer society.
  13. And lastly, even though you have been victimized and hurt and maybe even humiliated remember you are a survivor. Your strength and resiliency got you to this point and you will continue to survive and thrive.

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