How can I prepare myself to testify?
It is important to practice telling your story. Even though you lived through the abuse, you may never have had an opportunity to sit down and talk about all of the incidents of violence in an organized, clear way. By practicing in front of another person or in front of the mirror, you may be less nervous to tell your story to the judge in court. Also, as you begin talking about it, often times you will remember new details that may be important for your court case.
Tell your story in your own words and try to speak clearly. For example, in a restraining order case, try to focus on the relevant details of the incidents of violence, threats of violence, or any harassing or stalking behavior that you included in your petition. When describing an incident where the abuser hit you, tell the judge how you were hit, where on your body you were hit, how many times, what type of pain or injuries you suffered, if s/he used a weapon or object, etc. If you are describing threats that the abuser made to you, don’t paraphrase the threat by saying, “S/he threatened to kill me.” Try to remember exactly what s/he said and give those details, such as “S/he threatened to slit my throat and throw me into the river.” In other words, be specific.
You may want to make an outline or notes of the history of violence by the abuser to bring with you to court. Depending on your state’s rules of evidence, you may be able to refer to your notes when testifying to refresh your memory, but you may not be allowed to read your notes aloud. You can ask the judge if you can take notes with you when it is your turn to testify in case you need to remember a date, etc. However, be prepared to testify without them if the judge says, “No.”
If you have children, you may want to talk to a domestic violence lawyer in your state about how to present any evidence about what the abuser has done to the children. You want to be sure not to present this information in a way that may put you at risk of being accused of failing to protect your children from abuse.