Updated: Mar 1
My name is Sheri and I am a Victim by Force, Survivor by Choice, and an Activist by Design.
As a former victim of domestic violence and child abuse spanning 29 years of my life, I, like most victims and survivors, did what I was told. I followed commands given by my abusers in hopes that things would get better or I could “fix” the relationship. And I believed all the attorneys and friends when they told me to “document everything” with a false sense of hope that my truth would be seen and help would be there for me.
Usually I was just told to write everything down - this was before cell phones existed - but only once was I given any direction as to what “writing everything down” meant. Even the direction I did receive was only that the book had to be bound and I had to write a date and time with every entry. To me, I was supposed to be keeping a diary of my everyday thoughts and feelings, peppering in examples of the abuse. When abuse was not physical, it was hard to write down what happened because you're not even sure yourself how everything got twisted around. In the end, it just felt like my fault and I was too defeated to even try to write.
Then there was the task of hiding my journal so it wouldn’t be found. I had to find a place where I could get to it easily to write the details while they were fresh and I was still upset, but make sure it couldn’t get into the person that would use it against me (more abuse) then destroy it for fun. If the abuse happened while we were in the car (which it did often), there was no opportunity for me to journal and by the time I got home, the details were too fuzzy and again, I was too exhausted to bother.
But the real zinger was that even though I was meticulous about keeping notes filled with dates, times, and details, not once did anyone in the justice system (investigators, child services, lawyers, or judges) ever take any interest in reading years worth of documentation. My voice was silenced during the abuse and again by the courts.
Everyone in a position of authority is telling victims and survivors to document. But here’s where it gets interesting. Here’s what we know.
[00:58 Video, “Believe Me.” - https://youtu.be/o0qqA4Ze7hE]
Every year in the US, 13 million people endure domestic violence.
Our courts have over 2 million requests for Protection from Abuse orders.
Most of those cases will be dismissed, largely due to a lack of court-worthy evidence.
4000 of those victims will die because of their abuser.
99% will suffer financial abuse.
38% will become homeless.
Again, they're told over -and-over by those in authority to "document everything" and they do.
Problem is, they're still not believed.
As a survivor and an entrepreneur, I feel it is my duty to try to make a difference in the lives of victims and survivors. But with that duty, there is also a responsibility to support those who are already in place to do advocacy and support service work – not duplicate what’s already there. As was mentioned earlier, the data supports what I know – while documentation is nice, evidence is what really counts.
In 2019, my company, EBinRA launched VictimsVoice, a legally admissible documentation tool that meets the standard of evidence, supporting victims’ in being able to document the right information and store it in such a way that chain of custody can be certified. We have users in all 50 states in the US and have had it used in courtroom settings as evidence.
It differs from traditional recording methods in several ways:
It is a PWA - Progressive Web App - so there’s nothing to download and nothing saved locally on any device. This means that someone who doesn’t have access to a smart phone can still document. They simply use any device that connects to the web. This also means that the defense will have no grounds to subpoena a survivor’s device because we don’t store data there. There’s nothing to find.
We don’t allow for audio or video. “Wait, what?!?” We get that a lot. Audio and video recordings are not legal in all states. In fact, some states it’s a felony. Imagine banking your whole outcome on a recording, only to find that it won’t be heard and allowed as evidence, and you could now be charged with a crime. We DO allow for photos… lots of photos, so take as many as are needed to show your truth.
We walk the users through prompts. There’s nothing more frustrating than pouring your heart and mind out, only to be told it’s not relevant and not admissible. All of our questions have been vetted by key stakeholders (yes, prosecutors too) to ensure they guide a user through obtaining information that is relevant to building their case. It also geolocates and date/time stamps every entry.
We ask questions around things that could also show the extent of the abuse, like child endangerment, weapons, strangulation, animal cruelty… all that could potentially escalate current charges, bring additional charges, and/or just make it easier to get that final restraining order.
We don’t talk to our users. Heck, we don’t even know who they are! When someone signs up for an account, their information is encrypted. They become a number to us - an important number - but an unknown identity. This way, when they need to reach out to ask us a question, they can log into their account, ask through the inmail system, and no one knows who they are. We won’t email them, text them, or send any crazy notifications. They’ll just get a response in their protected in-mail system.
The unfortunate fact is, some abusive relationships are so violent that the victim never has the chance to become a survivor. When a user logs into their account, they have the ability to assign a trusted friend as what we call a Journal Designee. This person creates a lite account that becomes linked to the user’s account (no access to the user’s account), so that in the event of the user’s death, medical incapacitation, or official missing status, the Journal Designee can go through a process and assign an official to get a copy of the legally admissible report and all the files. This way, even in death, a victim’s voice can be heard.
This past summer, we released our Version 2 with new features and functionality such as being able to be translated in over 100 languages, as well as helping to navigate tribal jurisdiction, and legal compliance in Native American tribal courts.
While there is an annual license fee to use the paid service (documentation, report release, etc.), we’ve partnered with amazing resources across the country - organizations like Connecticut Protective Moms - who understand that $40 a year might as well be $4 million for many so they pre-pay the license and give the licenses out for free.* We are a tool. Our Partner Members are the real resources, and now they have a tool that can help ensure victims and survivors have a legal voice in a court setting. While we cannot fix corrupt officials and courts (yet), we do make it possible for our users to have their evidence in one place and under their control.
We made sure that our systems are built to meet HIPAA, VAWA, VOCA, and FVPSA rules, as well as CCPA and GDPR privacy standards. (Anyone feeling like alphabet soup now?) If you are an organization that is government funded, we’ve ensured your continued compliance when it comes to user records, even with no obligation on your end.
There’s a lot to unpack here, so you can (cue popcorn) watch a 09:21 video that explains it all here - https://youtu.be/gUXEseGDR-Y
Feel free to follow us on the web at VictimsVoice.app or on any of the social media platforms @VictimsVoiceApp.
*Partner Program Members provide licenses at a bulk-reduced rate and provide those licenses to people in their “community” who might otherwise not have access. It is up to the discretion of the Partner Member as to who meets the criteria of a community member.