This Viral Domestic Violence Hearing Exposes Just How Hard It Is For Survivors To Escape Abuse

Photo: YouTube
This Viral Domestic Violence Hearing Exposes Just How Hard It Is For Survivors To Escape Abuse

Footage of a virtual domestic violence court hearing has gone viral raising some important conversations around the complexities of abuse, particularly during the pandemic. 

The video is a recording of a trial being held over Zoom for Coby Harris who, after assaulting his girlfriend Mary Lindsey, was issued a no-contact order to keep him away from his victim. 

An eagle-eyed prosecutor in the case, Deborah Davis, had received word that Harris may be in the same home as his victim, attending the hearing over Zoom. This caused Davis to be concerned for the woman’s safety.

“Your honor, I have reason to believe the defendant is in the apartment of the complaining witness right now, and I am extremely scared for her safety,” Davis told the judge a few minutes after the hearing began. 

Observing the victims’ demeanor, Davis was concerned that Harris was intimidating his girlfriend into staying in the same location as him for the hearing. 

“The fact that she’s looking off to the side and he’s moving around, I want some confirmation that she is safe before we continue,” Davis told the judge.

Harris then provided the judge with a fake address and refused to show the court the number on his door, saying his phone battery was about to run out. 

After several more excuses, Davis informs Harris that the police are at the woman’s apartment at which point both screens go blank. Harris then appears at his victim’s screen attempting to apologize for lying and asks that the no-contact order be dropped. 

The video has struck a nerve with domestic violence survivors around the world for how it captures the complexities of abuse. 

But the viral video has also produced ferocious victim-blaming directed at Lindsey for remaining in an abusive relationship. 

Comments ask why Lindsey didn’t leave, why she didn’t tell someone he had returned, and why she let him back into her home in the first place. 

This rhetoric is all too familiar for abuse survivors who are often the recipients of backlash and criticism that should be directed at abusers instead. 

These questions are reductive, irrelevant, and create a cycle of shame that prevents survivors from coming forward. 

To tell us more about the entrapment domestic abusers create for their victims we spoke to Christie whose intimate experience with domestic violence has given her insight into how victims like Lindsey feel in these situations. 

“First, domestic abuse is extremely confusing. It's confusing to have someone you love and trust abuse you, and that goes for emotional and verbal abuse along with physical violence,” she tells us.

“Abusers confuse their victims on purpose to wear them down so that they gradually become so trapped in a brain fog that it becomes difficult to think out an exit strategy.”

For those who have been fortunate enough to have never experienced domestic violence, it is easy to be of the mindset that leaving abusive situations is simple. 

But this neglects the reality that abuse often starts off subtle and occurs in ways that impact victims before they even realize it

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Christie tells us that abuse happens in a cycle in which abusers carefully manipulate victims beyond their control. 

“The 'honeymoon phase' where things are good, then the tension building phase, until it finally explodes into abuse. Each time the cycle happens, the abuse escalates, becoming more lethal every time. When you're in the 'honeymoon phase,' there's hoovering and love-bombing, promises to change and you often cling to hope that they will change, but they never do."

She tells us that abusers demand 100% control over their victims, a painful reality that was explicitly evident when Harris insisted that no-contact orders be dropped claiming that both he and Lindsey wanted to be able to see each other. 

Lindsey also told The Washington Post that Harris had actively tried to convince her no abuse had ever taken place and tried to dissuade her from pursuing legal action. 

Gaslighting and other abusive tactics are designed to keep you second-guessing your own reality,” Christie tells us. 

The victim-blaming Lindsey has experienced also reflects the naivety people have about taking legal action against abusers. 

Escaping abusive situations is a lengthy and highly dangerous process for survivors. A simple call to the police can put victims in more danger than ever before. 

Lindsey had never told Harris that it was her who had called the authorities after a domestic abuse incident so when she was asked about it during the hearing, with Harris in a nearby room, she was fearful. 

Lindsey and Harris’ story might be unique but the kind of intimidation tactics exhibited happen in courtrooms and police stations all the time, leaving survivors feeling discouraged about taking action. 

“Abusers are often cunning and manipulative, and I have been in situations where my abuser turned the police on me when I called for help. Now, even though I have gotten a lot of help from the system lately, I am still super scared and hesitant to involve authorities,” Christie tells us. 

She says that legal action does not deter abusers. In fact, many use it as another way to terrorize survivors by contesting restraining orders or claims and forcing victims to face them in court over and over for years. 

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Christie says that the traumatizing legal route and the constant questioning victims face make many survivors reluctant to take on this system. 

On average, it takes a survivor seven attempts to leave their abuser before they are successful. This is also statistically the most dangerous stage in an abusive relationship. 75% of victims who are murdered by their abusers are killed after they have escaped. 

For Lindsey, going along with Harris’ plan to lie to authorities about his location during the hearing was possibly a decision she made for survival, fearing what would happen if she refused him. 

Videos of the hearing spread like wildfire across social media, racking up millions of views, and though it highlights important issues around domestic abuse, the real lives impacted by these situations must not be forgotten. 

Lindsey has said that the backlash she has received has only added another layer to the violation she has felt only this time it is coming from strangers online who know nothing about her. 

She has established a fundraiser to help her and her daughter relocate and seek therapy. 

With so many domestic abuse victims watching, it is so vital that we correct this culture of victim-blaming that has followed Lindsey’s story. 

For people who are currently trapped in situations of abuse, have been in the past, or could be in the future, this story could play a crucial role in whether or not they feel encouraged to seek help. 

Our language around abuse and who is at fault must be empowering to survivors so as to not add to the emotional trauma abusers inflict. When we engage in victim-blaming and shaming we enable abusers and make them feel validated in their violent actions. 

If escaping abuse meant receiving criticism from millions of strangers who watched what should have been a private video, would you feel like coming forward? 

Understanding the nuances of all the resources can be overwhelming, however, you can get started with the National Domestic Abuse Hotline any time of day by calling 1−800−799−7233.

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Alice Kelly is a writer living in Brooklyn, New York. Catch her covering all things social justice, news, and entertainment.