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  • Writer's pictureJosie Salzman


*** Male and female pronouns in the following article are interchangeable and do not indicate that men or woman are more or less likely to be abusers in any given context ***

The Abuser in Court

In the court room the parties approach the bar table. On one side is a sophisticated looking man. On the other is a woman who has a smudge of mascara on the left side of her face, and it appears her eye makeup has rubbed completely off her right side. Her eyes are red, and her hands are trembling.

As the parties explain what is occurring in the proceedings the man speaks well for himself. The woman’s solicitor is trying to say that her client is being abused, but her words fall on deaf ears. People in the courtroom are finding it difficult to imagine what is being said could be true.

This man looks to be an upstanding citizen as he proclaims his volunteer work with some organisation or other that no one has heard of…but it sounds good. The man quietly explains he has been threatened by the woman. The woman makes a loud outburst of tears and pain and frustration. As her lawyer tries to calm her the man takes the moment to drive his point home that it is in fact him being victimised by this woman who is not mentally stable.

The man is smooth, charming and it is as if he is casting a spell on everyone as the woman leaves sobbing, shaking and unheard.

The truth in the above scenario is that the man has been psychologically abusing the woman for years. Making her doubt herself. Using very slight and subtle manipulations to get what he wants from her. She has been made to feel not good enough, and as she desperately tried to become someone he could love and shower with affection as he did when they met, she slowly deteriorated into a shell of what she once was.

The only accurate thing the man said was that the woman was not mentally stable. The truth is he made her that way.

The Problem

How does anyone working in the court process from clerk to decision maker including representatives identify who the “bad guy” is? Particularly when the abuse is psychological and emotional, the abuser’s manipulations can be so slight it becomes difficult for anyone fact finding in a case to work out why the victim is so afraid.

Abusers will also claim to be abused and it is often decided that no one is more at fault than the other, that they should just agree to disagree and move on.

It is possible of course that both parties do abuse each other equally. More often than not what appears to be two people abusing each other is actually one abuser and one reactor.

There are some very easy patterns of behaviour that will identify who the true abuser is behind the flurry of accusations being hurled between the parties.

Behaviours that Identify the Abuser

1. Third Party Opinions

Abusers will gather supporters by speaking to other people about how they are the true victim. They then use those third parties’ opinions to justify themselves. This can slip through in affidavit material even if it’s been prepared by a solicitor.

Never underestimate how many years before the abuse was actually complained about that this has occurred. Abusers will often set up supporters well in advance. This means that by the time the victim starts complaining they already have people who have heard their side of the story.


Mr Smith has been our friend for years and he said he can’t believe how she is treating me because I’ve always been such a good husband.

2. Broad Generalised Statements

The abuser is an expert at making emotive statements about the other person’s actions towards them in general terms without particulars. They use broad generalised statements and do not give any factual accounts of what has occurred.


I am in constant fear because she keeps threatening me and has no problems contacting my friends and family to continually harass me. She is intimidating me and I’m scared to stand up to her because she is capable of anything.

3. Projection

Projection is a term used to describe when a person accuses the other of doing what they are in fact doing themselves. The difficulty is that a skilled abuser is a master of making it look like the other party is actually doing exactly what they are doing. They can even incite and manipulate the victim into acting in a manner that in fact appears to be exactly what they have professed as truth.

Working it out is as simple as looking at who started it. An easy concept to think about is that of a child who is said to be difficult to handle, thus justifying the parent’s use of force. What is in fact occurring is that the parent is emotionally abusing the child akin to the child being poked continuously and inconspicuously. The child eventually explodes in anger and the parent assaults the child, and thus the cycle continues.

If the underlying reason for the behaviour is abuse then there is your abuser, regardless of what the outcome is.

4. Lies

Abusers live a lie and spend a lot of energy trying to cover up who they really are. This is why they make the broad generalised statements, as the less detail they have given the less they have to remember in their story telling.

Lies, deceptions and even frauds are often committed by an abuser and evident in material before the court.

Even high functioning abusers will contradict themselves somewhere and try to make attempts to cover it up. Victims on the other hand don’t have to remember their story and, although memories fade and inconsistencies can occur over time, they won’t be as blatant as in the abuser’s story.

The liar is most evident in the witness box as they will have difficulty giving a straight answer to anything. They answer a question with a question, talk in circles and ramble at any opportunity about how they are being victimised. They don’t want to be tied down to facts because most of the time they forget what the actual facts are, as opposed to the story they tell.

5. Mental Health

A person who has been the victim of abuse has experienced trauma which leaves a lasting psychological impact. They will have most likely suffered anxiety and/or depression and will have PTSD symptoms such as nightmares, flashbacks and anxiety attacks.

If the victim has not had any therapy, they are most vulnerable. Even if they have sought psychological help and taken significant steps towards recovery, being in the same space as their abuser will usually trigger a trauma response regardless.

For this reason, in the court room the victim is usually the one who presents as the most emotionally vulnerable, while the abuser will look presentable, speak convincingly and tell everyone how in fact they are being victimised by this mad person.

The abuser will often also profess to having anxiety and/or depression, to being fearful and stressed because of the other person’s actions towards them. Remember they are masters at setting up third party opinion, so it is not uncommon for them to see a mental health professional to obtain something to bolster their position. The indicator here is that it is unlikely they would have had ongoing appointments past what is needed to obtain the necessary corroboration for their story.

When an abuser has mentally destroyed their victim a common occurrence in court is to make statements either personally or through their legal representative that they know will trigger the years of abuse they have inflicted, and this incites a reaction in the victim.

Final Words

When an abuser looks like a decent human being and an upstanding member of society, it can be difficult to the untrained observer to tell who the true victim is when both are claiming abuse.

These simple indicators are not exhaustive and seeing one behaviour on its own may not be enough to identify an abuser. In my experience when dealing with the psychological abuser it is usually the case that all five indicators will be present when the material is examined.

1 Comment

john johnson
john johnson
Jul 21, 2022

I wish the courts understood this or better yet just gave a damn...My ex-wife of 11 years grinded me down to the point of attempted suicide... When I was served a DVPO and lost my house my security clearance my job she cleaned out our joint accounts took my retirement savings lost my guns my CPL but the worse losing access to my children... The moment I was forced to leave, and the cops had left she called me and said, "Now that you can't see the boys and really have nothing to live for do everyone a favor and go kill yourself like you always said you would" and hung up... it's been almost a year since I have…

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