Email messages, whether accessed through a computer or a mobile device, are a common form of communication. In many family law agreements, courts routinely order email communications as a means of “safe” communication between parties, as it leaves a written record. However an abusive (ex) partner can misuse email by sending harassing messages, gaining unauthorized access to your email, creating fake email addresses in order to monitor or impersonate you, or sending computer viruses or spyware via emails. Email evidence can be used to strengthen contested cases by providing proof of abuse and to present a picture of the abusive relationship and domestic violence.
Before you capture email evidence, always think through any potential risks to your safety. This is especially important if there is a risk that the perpetrator is monitoring the activities on your device. This could be happening in several ways:
If the perpetrator is monitoring your device these ways, it could alert them to you collecting evidence. If you suspect that the perpetrator has access to your devices, accounts, or files, you will need to make a plan on how to avoid detection when collecting evidence. This is both to protect you from additional abuse and to avoid the risk of the perpetrator deleting important evidence.
Look at your account settings on your email, social media and other accounts to see what devices are connected and disconnect them from the account if it is safe to do so. You can also check to see what IP addresses are being used to look at your account. If you see an unusual IP address accessing your accounts, this may be important evidence that the perpetrator is accessing your accounts without consent.
Consider password safety and the importance of changing passwords on all relevant platforms and devices. If you have any concern that your device(s) may be infected with spyware, plan how to change passwords without alerting the perpetrator. Anti-violence advocates will be able to assist you to create a safety plan while using technology.
You may also need to consider alternative ways to preserve evidence, some of which can be found in this toolkit.
While email evidence can be extremely useful, it is not always properly preserved, and it can get accidentally deleted or have its authenticity questioned. Admitting email evidence generally requires showing that an email is relevant to your case and that a specific person authored and/or sent it.
You can print out the email, showing the:
You can also include the header if you’re able to.
Print all the emails of the same conversation or “Subject.” Most courts will want to see the entire conversation thread, not just one “reply” to a larger conversation. It may be helpful to start new email conversations or “Subjects” for separate conversations instead of replying to the same email thread for long periods of time.
If you are unsure how to preserve evidence of technology-facilitated violence, contact an anti-violence program in your area for support and to develop a safety plan that includes technology safety considerations. Legal advocates available in BC communities may be able to assist.
BC anti-violence programs and legal advocates:
Technology Safety Project
This document is a part of a series that details how to preserve evidence related to the misuse of technology in experiences of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking. The series is part of the Preserving Digital Evidence of Technology-Facilitated Violence Toolkit. This document, or any portion thereof, may be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever as long as acknowledgment to the BC Society of Transition Houses is included in the product.
This document was published March 2021.
Adapted with permission from the National Network to End Domestic Violence’s Safety Net project, based on their Legal Systems Toolkit.