My ex-girlfriend assaulted me. Now what?
November 27, 2013 8:05 AM   Subscribe

My ex-girlfriend assaulted me, damaged my property, and kicked in a door to a public establishment where I was hiding from her. What's going to happen now?

I'm obviously a little spun, so please forgive me if I end up repeating myself or asking for basic information. I haven't been in this spot before.

The short version of this story is that my ex-girlfriend with diagnosed BPD, for which she has previously been hospitalized, attacked me earlier tonight near my car. After she started hitting me, I fought with her to get away. When she made escaping in my car impossible without seriously physically damaging her, I abandoned the vehicle and went to a nearby establishment which was closed but where I know some people. After breaking some external lights on the car and destroying some personal belongings, she tracked me to where I was, kicked in the glass door, then ran away. She's now under arrest. I've given a statement to the police which is largely what I've described (there are details I haven't included here but could if necessary) and have had pictures taken of my injuries and the property damage. I'm expecting that I'm going to have to go to court. This is not the first time I have called the cops on her, although previously for trying to hurt herself and not me, and so she has a case history with the local police department. I am in Washington State and am a straight man. I do not have a protection order against her currently, other than whatever temporary one may be retroactively assigned by an initial hearing (or so I'm told).

You're not my lawyer, but maybe you've unfortunately been through something like this before or have counseled people through similar. What should I be expecting? Do I need to retain a lawyer right away, or is one only necessary for part of whatever processes? How long is this likely to take? What would be the expected outcome, and what role, if any, would I play in that outcome? Any and all information with regard to the legal or social ramifications and my likely responsibilities would be very helpful.

Anonymous because she knows my regular username. Throwaway email:
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (20 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
If your injuries are at all serious, you should go to a hospital. It's another form of documentation for the courts to later look at when determining a) her guilt in a criminal case or b) her liability in a civil trial.

Sorry this is happening to you. You'll get through it.
posted by brentajones at 8:17 AM on November 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

Haven't been through it personally, but very close to someone who went through the exact same thing. First: my condolences. People with untreated BPD are just black holes of violent, ultra-dramatic agony. It SUCKS. Here's what's up, vis a vis where you're at:

- Please please please pleeeeeeeeeeeeease tell me you don't have kids with her. If you don't: GOOD THINKING. If you do, I have a whole raft of other advice, and all of it begins with, "I am so, so, so, SO sorry."

- You need to immediately and permanently cut off ALL contact with her. No meetings, no talking, no calls, no texts, no going through an intermediary, no NOTHING. Any interactions you NEED to have can take place through the legal system.

- You need to file a motion for an emergency protective order against her. While you do not NEED an attorney to do this - it's straightforward, and the local court will help you with it as best they can - as with all legal matters, having one definitely HELPS expedite it and make it easier.

- If there are charges filed against her, and you have the opportunity to drop them, DO NOT DO SO, no matter what sort of pity you may wind up feeling.

- Things will chug along more slowly than you'd like: everything needs to be scheduled, and a LOT of things wind up being rescheduled, especially around the holidays. It's not gonna all go down in one fell swoop - it'll be a series of stressful days interspersed by weeks/months of anxiety and frustration. Keep your chin up and your resolve strong.

- Change your locks, block her phone number on your phone, and discreetly inform your friends/family/supervisor that, "Hey, my ex is a troubled woman and going through some tough times, and while I do not THINK she'll contact you, it's POSSIBLE, and I just wanted you to be aware of this so you're not unduly freaked out, okay?"

- Best possible outcome: you get a protective order that lasts for a year or so. She gets either slapped with a fine OR put on probation (which would be excellent). You really don't have any participation in this, other than showing up to court when needed until the verdict is handed down, and calling the cops if/when she comes near you after the fact.

- Worst possible outcome? The case is thrown out because they believe it's a "he said/she said lover's quarrel". This is where retaining an attorney comes in handy... they can avoid things like this. Again, however, you don't strictly NEED one.

Memail me if you need to talk, okay? And good luck.
posted by julthumbscrew at 8:18 AM on November 27, 2013 [10 favorites]

Assault is not a civil violation, so you don't need a lawyer. You are not bringing suit. It is a criminal violation, and the state, city, or whatever jurisdiction the assault occured in, is the entity bringing charges. You will be a witness.

You might consider asking the ADA (Assistant District Attorney) or police about whether she is likely to get bail, and if so, what options you might have to protect yourself. A Protection from Abuse Order is a possibility, though there is much controversy about whether they are actually helpful.
posted by citygirl at 8:18 AM on November 27, 2013 [3 favorites]

You will likely be contacted by someone in the prosecutor's office. In the county I live in in Washington State, you would be getting a call from a domestic violence victim's advocate employed by the county. Their job is to help support you through the process, such as giving you information about the case, attending meetings with the prosecuting attorney and hearings, etc. You do not need an attorney unless you want to sue your ex; the prosecutor's office will make the decision about if and what to charge her with criminally. Your responsibility would be to attend a meeting with the prosecutor if they request it, be interviewed by the defense attorney (with the prosecuting attorney present), and to testify in court if she is charged and tried. You do not get to make the decision about whether she is criminally charged, but the prosecutor will probably take your wishes into consideration. If she is charged with domestic violence, I believe a protection order is put into place automatically. If you have medical fees due to the assault, ask the prosecutor's office about crime victims compensation.
posted by Safiya at 8:21 AM on November 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

You should visit a hospital to document your injuries.

You should also speak with a lawyer about bringing suit to recover damages and also get a restraining order. You can get a RO today - it's a bit of paperwork, and you'll get a temporary one until the hearing. The lawyer can help you with the hearing.

Hopefully, kids aren't involved. If they are, this gets really tricky. I was unable to get a restraining order against my son's mother when she pulled a similar stunt.

Document everything now. Write down details, times, places, names, etc. Also, prepare for retaliation and document that as well. Get a folder/binder or some such and keep it all together. This will be very handy for your attorney and for you.

Memail me if you want or need more. Keep your chin up.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 8:23 AM on November 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

You don't need a lawyer to prosecute when you're the victim of a crime.

However, you may need to appear in court if she gets charged and later on goes to trial. Right now, expect to be in touch with an Assistant District Attorney (ADA) who will ask you to sign a deposition affirming what happened and what she did to you. This document being signed is what you do to "press charges" since you are the complaining witness in her criminal case.

When she appears for her arraignment, at the latest her first court date, your ADA will automatically request that an order of protection be granted in your favor. That order will be renewed at every following court date and might existence for a certain amount of time after the case is concluded. That order will spell out what she cannot do. If she violates the order or has contact with you she shouldn't be having, call the police ASAP and tell them: I have an order of protection against this woman and she is violating it, so I want her arrested. That's what that order gives you the right to do.

Your ADA will be able to tell you if she has been released on bail, released without bail (on her own recognizance, unlikely) or if she was remanded to a local jail pending the next court date. You will want to tell the ADA to try to set as high of a bail as possible if not ask for her to be remanded to jail if you are concerned for your safety.

As for your own safety: obviously you are aware this person is dangerous. Go buy a copy of "The Gift of Fear" by Gavin de Becker and read it.

I advise you to vary your routine, secure your home, always travel with a charged cell phone, make your friends and family aware of where you will be or when you might be home, if you are going out and thinking you might run into her for some reason.

Make sure your doors and windows at home are all securely locked; don't leave mail out or blinds open. If you have a garage park in it every night, and not in your driveway. If you don't park in a garage, select a parking spot somewhere else other than your normal area. Get your insurance policies together in case of further damage to your home, car, or personal belongings - know how to file a claim if necessary, etc.

Advise your roommates, family, and neighbors what is going on; tell them if they see her at your house they should not interact with her and call the police, then call you or text you to let you know that she was around. If you have mutual friends with her that she may try to use to find out where you are, advise those friends to not pass along information about you.

You already fought with this woman once "to get away" - maybe you'd consider carrying mace or pepper spray in case you are assaulted again, although you should 1) go outside and practice using it on the air first (stand upwind) and 2) remember it takes a few seconds to take effect. It is useful for a situation where you spray the assailant and when they are stunned you RUN.

If this woman harasses you by phone, by email, by mail, text, whatever: document everything and respond to nothing. Block her from all social networks and filter her calls and emails away from your inbox, but keep them for documentation purposes. Do not engage or communicate with her at all. If she approaches you in person you just say, "you are required by law not to have any contact with me; if you do not leave immediately I am calling 911" and call 911 if she's still there.

You may need to tell people at your job that you are being stalked/harassed by a mentally ill person so that they know not to let her into your office/building on a false pretense; the order of protection should cover your work as well as your home and your vehicle. When you tell work what is going on indicate that you are taking the necessary steps to protect your safety and cooperate with law enforcement, and under no circumstances should they let her into your office/building. The best thing to tell her is have someone else intercept her and say "oh you're looking for SockPuppet? Can't help you but I will make sure that information goes to the correct person," politely, then call the police because she violated the protection order.

document any and all interaction you might have with her in person, since that information will be useful later on in the criminal case. a stalking/harassment pattern shown in court might be something that gets her into a psychiatric correctional setting and decreases the likelihood of her acting out like this in the future.

one last note - i'm sorry you're going through this. take care of your physical injuries and your mental health. if you get stressed, see a therapist or counselor and vent. or call crime victim's services in your community. the ADA can tell you how to reach victim's services. reading the "gift of fear" book will also help you feel more in control of this stressful and scary situation because you'll read about your own instincts can protect you.
posted by zdravo at 8:27 AM on November 27, 2013 [3 favorites]

Call your local domestic abuse organization. They will have resources for you.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:32 AM on November 27, 2013 [4 favorites]

Also visiting the hospital is a great idea for documentation purposes.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:33 AM on November 27, 2013

edited to add: to sue her in civil court to recover for damages you would need a lawyer, but i would recommend less involvement with this person not more, in the long run, and a lawsuit means you will have to keep interacting with her, albeit through intermediaries. you can ask the ADA to consider fining her for victim's restitution as part of her sentence if they are negotiating with her defense attorney later on.
posted by zdravo at 8:33 AM on November 27, 2013

Echoing calls to document absolutely everything -- names, dates, places, times, witnesses -- cut her off completely and please remember to take good care of yourself in the flurry of activity that's about to ensue. Do you have solid, trusted friends or family you can lean on, confide in, or stay with temporarily? Can you take some time off of work to re-center?

Northwest Justice is Washington's publicly funded legal aid program, so if you're low-income, they are definitely worth reaching out to for assistance. CLEAR is NWJ's referral service for low-income people seeking free legal assistance with civil legal problems. You can apply for assistance through that program here.

I'll let more knowledgeable folks handle more specific legal recommendations, but socially speaking, if you're comfortable doing so, I would definitely suggest contacting a domestic violence counselor to talk through possible paths forward and get some ideas on how to cope. Some options:
* You can reach Washington State's Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-562-6025. Additional resources for survivors can be found here.
* The Domestic Abuse Helpline for Men and Women has a 24-hour hotline that provides information and crisis intervention: 1-888-7HELPLINE (1-888-743-5754).
* Help For Battered Men has a solid amount of gender-specific information; here is their page on resources for men in Washington state.
* Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence has additional state-specific resources.
* The National Domestic Violence Hotline provides 24/7 confidential support -- you can chat with them online or give them a call at 1-800-799-SAFE (1-800-799-7233).

I'm so sorry this is happening to you. I wish you safety, strength, and peace.
posted by divined by radio at 8:44 AM on November 27, 2013 [6 favorites]

As noted above, definitely ask the police office or the prosecutor for a referral to the Victims' Services office in your jurisdiction, in addition to seeking advice from local domestic violence organizations. Do these things right away, even though you may not be eligible for Victims' Service assistance until a case has been filed.

The Victims' Services office will have people to help explain the court process and they will be kinder to you and more patient with your questions than the prosecutor's office. They may also have counseling services for you. Often they help co-ordinate when you will need to be in court and assist in getting you in and out of the courthouse safely. You may be not be allowed in the courtroom for portions of the trial, if it comes to that.

There are many factors which affect how long the process will take. If you're in a smaller community, a criminal case (assuming there is one) will generally move more quickly than if you're in a large county (like, say Cook County, Illinois). If the police and prosecutor are not helpful in explaining what to expect with regard to timelines, again, ask Victim's Services or seek out a legal aid office that does domestic violence work and ask if they have guides for what to expect in a prosecution.
posted by crush-onastick at 8:44 AM on November 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

It's true you don't need an attorney to deal with what has happened so far, but I used to live with someone with BPD, and I can tell you - it is amazing how quickly the wrongs you have done them in their heads become wrongs you have done them that they tell everyone you actually committed. In a situation like this, I would not be surprised at all if she makes accusations against you to excuse or explain her own behavior to her own friends and family and possibly to the police. In fact, I'd be more surprised if she didn't.

There's really no amount of caution I would consider paranoid when dealing with someone like this. I would suggest that at the very least, you make an appointment with an attorney to discuss your situation and how best to protect yourself legally from stuff she may invent whole cloth.
posted by kythuen at 10:22 AM on November 27, 2013 [4 favorites]

What should I be expecting? Do I need to retain a lawyer right away, or is one only necessary for part of whatever processes? How long is this likely to take? What would be the expected outcome, and what role, if any, would I play in that outcome? Any and all information with regard to the legal or social ramifications and my likely responsibilities would be very helpful

I'd expect the prosecutor's office to file charges. Whether they are felony or misdemeanor charges depends on where the police refer them. Ask the officer to whom you spoke (hopefully you have that info) when/where the charges are referred. An advocate working within the prosecutor's office should contact you, but there is nothing wrong with reaching out to a community-based DV outfit to secure an advocate to contact the prosecutor's office for you. Once the prosecutor brings charges, your ex will be arraigned. You may want to be present to ask for a no contact order, and perhaps for high bail, or have the advocate ask for you. I'd strongly suggest you also apply for your own civil restraining order. That will issue immediately, and the court will set a hearing about 2 weeks out to see if a one year order will issue.

After that, there will be negotiations with her defense counsel to see if the criminal case will be resolved by plea or trial. You have the right to give input before any plea resolution, under Washington law. If the case is resolved, you also have the right to give input before a sentencing court, in writing or in person. You can always communicate through your assigned advocate.

I really, really hope you are also doing some safety planning, ideally with the help of your advocate. Someone who has a mental health disorder and is this willing to cross social boundaries to attack you is someone you should view as very, very dangerous. I am not kidding. Besides getting a restraining order of your own, at minimum I'd recommend that you give copies of it to everyone -- your work, your neighbors, etc -- along with her picture, so you essentially have a line of defense around you. Change all personal information she knows about. Enforce your order by calling the police and asking your perimeter defenders to do so. Keep track of all efforts to contact/harass you. Your advocate will work with you on additional safety planning.

Take good care of yourself and don't hesitate to memail or post again if you have any more questions.
posted by bearwife at 11:17 AM on November 27, 2013

Agree with kythuen.
posted by the young rope-rider at 12:59 PM on November 27, 2013

Go straight to
BPD is closely linked to psychopathy and = inevitable harm in relationships. No contact, document everything and use the full force of the law.
Very painful and very traumatic... take your time to heal.
posted by tanktop at 1:08 PM on November 27, 2013

The Gift of Fear is often recommended here; I recently read it, and you should, too. The other book I recommend is Stop Walking on Eggshells.

This is domestic violence - call the local family shelter or organization and ask for assistance. You can find them in the paper phone book. This is rotten for you, and you were kind not to harm her. You should get cooperation and support from the police/DA, but if they don't take this seriously, get the family violence org. to help you.
posted by theora55 at 1:33 PM on November 27, 2013

take pictures of your car, get a copy of the police report, and call your car insurance company.
posted by cupcake1337 at 3:45 PM on November 27, 2013

For those suggesting visiting a hospital (and others who are not but are in the know): Would going to an urgent-care-walk-in type facility (or GP) be just as quick and effective but cheaper?
posted by K.P. at 4:13 PM on November 27, 2013

From a user who would prefer to remain anon:
I practice criminal law. I'm not giving you legal advice, but I can tell you what to expect. I practice in WA.

What should I be expecting? The police will refer charges to the prosecutor's office. The police may or may not follow up by asking you for any photos/medical documents. Charges will be filed, and the prosecutor's office will be in touch with you to interview you. They usually utilize victim advocates rather than the actual prosecutors, although that may vary.

Do I need to retain a lawyer right away, or is one only necessary for part of whatever processes?
It isn't necessary for you to retain a lawyer, although if you want independent legal advice, it's always a good idea. The prosecutor will encourage you to proceed with charges, if you want to hear the pros and cons honestly, get your own lawyer. If you want to take additional steps to protect yourself, like get a protective order - that can usually be done as part of a criminal case, but you can also seek different types of protective orders by yourself or through a private attorney. If for some reason criminal charges aren't brought, you can still seek your own protection order - usually in district court.

It is not true that the prosecuting attorney will automatically request a protective order. They may do so, they are more likely to do so if you specifically request this.

How long is this likely to take? That depends on whether she is in custody, the backlog in the prosecutor's office, and/or how high priority domestic violence crimes are in your area. Generally, charges are brought within a month or two. Criminal cases take up to a year to proceed to trial. These facts sound like misdemeanor charges are likely, but there are some facts that suggest the prosecutor could file this case in several different ways.

What would be the expected outcome, and what role, if any, would I play in that outcome?
No one can tell you the outcome at this point. Anyone that does is being irresponsible. You will almost certainly be a crucial witness in this criminal case, as will the people in the establishment that you were hiding in, if they were interviewed by the officers. You would be subpoenaed to testify at trial against her. If you want advice on participation specific to your situation, you will have to either rely on the prosecutor's advice or hire a private attorney.
posted by jessamyn at 4:26 PM on November 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

No. You will not need an attorney. You are not being accused of any crime whatsoever. The police or prosecutor will probably contact you to interview you and take down statements. Myself...I would insist that the girl reimburse you for any damage, and tell the prosecutor the girl has mental health issues and really needs help.

Whatever you do....even if she comes apologizing, acting sweet, saying she is taking her meds...stay away from her.
posted by Nicholas Geary at 8:23 PM on November 30, 2013

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