Documenting New Abuse Tactics
by Susan L. Miller and Nicole L. Smolter*
Editor’s Note: In this piece, Susan L. Miller and Nicole L. Smolter describe “Paper Abuse,” a common form of intimate partner abuse that operates within the venue of the legal system. Sometimes referred to as “legal abuse,” a term popularized by Dr. Karin Huffer’s book Legal Abuse Syndrome, paper abuse encompasses repeated filings of frivolous, vindictive legal motions by abusers and their attorneys solely for the purpose of wearing down their victims financially and emotionally. This commonly reported experience causes enormous stress on victims who are already suffering the trauma caused by their earlier interactions with their batterers and who must now have contact with them via the legal processes and appearances demanded by the abuser’s baseless motions.
s most victims/survivors, victim service advocates, and other professionals know all too well, it is naive to think that abuse ends once a violent relationship is over. In fact, research reveals that battered
women are at higher risk of serious injury or death following the termination of a relationship (Tjaden & Thoennes, 1998). In addition to the heightened risk of physical violence, many victims are also subject to other forms of abuse as well as stalking (Mechanic, Weaver, & Resick, 2000). “Paper abuse” can have debilitating consequences and needs greater attention. This concept incorporates acts that are routinely used by batterers against their former partners to continue victimization and includes a range of behaviors, such as filing frivolous lawsuits, making false reports of child abuse, and taking other legal actions as a means of exerting power, forcing contact, and financially burdening their ex-partners. Legal venues, including protection order hearings and divorce and child custody proceedings, are particularly ripe for paper abuse not only because they involve multiple meetings and hearings but also because these types of cases are often heard by multiple judges. In this often lengthy process, histories of abuse can be ignored, forgotten, or distorted by the abuser. Victims are also often legally required to participate in these proceedings and, when they do, may have few resources for protecting themselves. We suggest this element of forced contact restricts victims’ access to protection and creates ongoing hassles, burdens, and frustrations. Thus, despite the lack of physical violence, paper abuse should be recognized as an example of continued victimization.