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ID-Theft

Identity Theft in Abusive Relationships

ID-TheftWith so many of our daily activities happening online, identity thieves have more and more access to our personal information. But for people in abusive relationships, the biggest threat to their identity and personal information could be their abusive partner.

From our experience at The Hotline, we know that an abusive partner often has access to or control over their victim’s bank accounts, credit cards, passwords and other sensitive personal information. There are many ways an abusive partner might use this access for harm. For example, an abusive partner might threaten or coerce a victim into opening a new credit card in the victim’s name and then max it out, leaving the victim with ruined credit. Some abusive partners might use personal information to stalk, harass or intimidate their partners.

LifeLock, a leading provider of proactive identity theft protection services for consumers, offers some basic tips that may help protect a victim of abuse from stolen identity or fraud:

1. If you can safely do so, change your passwords. Be mindful that this sometimes sends a “flag message” to the email accounts listed in their system. If your partner has access to those, it could give them a heads up that you’re taking measures for your safety. If you’re concerned that your partner will be made aware of the change, or if you are concerned that this could escalate your level of danger, you may want to create new accounts that are not linked to the old ones that you can move your business to discreetly. If you currently reside with your partner, consider not accessing these new accounts from devices that they would have access to. Consider using an incognito window when accessing these accounts, so that your browsers do not share your search/ passwords to connected devices. For more information on private/incognito browsing, check out our post, Reducing Tech Footprints.

2. If your Social Security number has been taken, order your credit report from all three credit reporting agencies:

Equifax: (800) 525-6285
TransUnion: (800) 680-7289
Experian: (888) 397-3742

When you call each credit reporting agency, you’ll have the opportunity to place a fraud alert on your report. If you think that your partner may notice this fraud alert, consider possible explanations (“I left my wallet out at work and was worried that someone may have copied my card information”) that may lower their level of concern, or call our Hotline to discuss whether this preventive step could lead to a heightened escalation of threat from your partner.

3. Call the Identity Theft Resource Center at (800) 400-5530. They can answer many of your questions and help you determine additional actions you should take to help protect yourself. Keep in mind that you are the expert in your situation, so follow your instinct. General tips do not work for every circumstance, so consider whether you may be able to adapt a suggestion to increase your safety without escalating risk.

4. Monitor your transactions by keeping an eye on your credit and debit card accounts, looking for any transactions that you didn’t make. If you feel that it is safe to do so, report suspicious transactions using the phone number on the back of your credit or debit card. If you do believe that your accounts are being accessed by your partner and it does not seem safe to address this, consider opening a new account that they are not aware of and have the information sent to a safe email and location that they will not be able to access (e.g. work, PO box, trusted family or friend). You may be able to discretely transfer funds to this new account by changing your direct deposit at work, or writing a check from the old account to a trusted friend or family member, and having them write you a check that you can deposit into the new account so there is no record of transaction between the accounts.

5. If a retailer or employer offers you free credit monitoring as a result of a breach, find out if there is a way to access this service without alerting your partner. It is possible that this could be used to document your partner’s financial abuse.

6. Secure your mobile device with a passcode. If your partner is concerned about this, you can share that you are worried about forgetting your device and a stranger accessing it. If your partner demands access, consider keeping a safe device that your partner does not know about and using that to access your support and safe accounts. Keep your old device as a prop to help prevent them from suspecting that you have a safe device.

7. Keep computer systems up to date so you have the latest patches to protect from viruses and other malware that may have been installed. Be mindful that any devices your partner has access to could potentially be used to track your activities. Many browsers now allow you to share your activities on multiple devices. Be aware of which browsers do this and learn about how to avoid accidentally linking safe accounts to an unsafe device. Explore NNEDV’s Safety Net Project for more information.

These tips are meant to be general and may not apply to everyone’s situation. Remember, don’t take any actions that make you feel unsafe. If you would like to discuss more specific ways to protect yourself, please call us at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or chat online everyday from 7 AM-2 AM CT.

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I #SeeDV as an Intergenerational Epidemic: Jo Crawford

crawfordI have worked with more than 1,700 survivors (not victims!) of domestic violence in the past ten years, helping them to become financially independent and create new lives for themselves and their families. Only then can they save their more than 4,000 children from becoming abusers or abused. I often hear from these incredibly brave women that they have seen their mothers, grandmothers, sisters and cousins in abusive relationships. How can they know what a healthy relationship is if abuse is the model in which they grew up? Women fall in love with men who they believe are wonderful, only to find that they are violent and dangerous later. This is why it takes an average of seven times for a woman to leave for good, often after the children have been abused as well. This is also true for the men and boys who abuse. They have only seen men in their families abuse women, not treat them with the loving respect they all deserve.

How do we change this? Mothers, fathers, schools, and athletic teams need to stop the continuation of abuse by teaching very young children that little girls deserve to be treated with respect and little boys must treat women of all ages with respect. There needs to be zero tolerance for abuse at home, at work and in public. Not until violence against women is socially unacceptable will the staggering numbers of abuse change.

When I started working with survivors, I thought I would be working with low self-esteem issues, but there is a lack of self worth that is even more insidious. We so often are taught that other people are more important than we are and that it is our job to take care of others first. Women need to be reminded, and little girls need to be taught, that they deserve the very best of everything and that they have the power to create the life of their dreams. I believe this education is the responsibility of all of us, and it needs to start by the age of five. Anything less is not acceptable. If we all do not commit to ending domestic violence, we are as guilty as the abuser. We need to say, “No More.”

crawford-125Johanna Crawford was 13, living in an alcoholic, abusive household, when she watched her father try to kill her mother. The memory never left her, even years later as an adult who had built a string of successful businesses and sold high-end real estate.

In 2003, while volunteering at a crisis shelter, Crawford broke a rule and gave $40 out of her own wallet to a victim who arrived with two young children – petrified and penniless, and without the documents needed to apply for aid. There she saw a gap in what the government and domestic violence agencies were providing, and what the victims really needed in the moment: emergency cash grants as the first step to rebuilding their lives. The woman ended up using the $40 to pay a government fee to access her own records.

A year later, Crawford, who is now 67, launched her encore as the founder and executive director of Web of Benefit. Her Transition to Self Sufficiency and Good Works Programs assist survivors in developing skills for economic and personal independence and ensures each grantee adheres to her “Pay-It-Forward” philosophy.

According to the Mary Kay Foundation’s 2012 “Truth About Abuse” survey report, 74% of female domestic violence victims stay in an abusive relationship longer for financial reasons. To combat this, Web of Benefit has directly given grants to more than 1,400 survivors totaling over $750,000, touched the lives of more than 5,000 survivors, and partners with more than 80 organizations in Boston and 25 in Chicago. In 2012, she was honored as a CNN Hero for her encore work.

Says Crawford, “I believe women working together can change the world.”

no-excuse

Ray Rice, the NFL, and What We Know About Domestic Violence

no-excuseThe recent events and media coverage surrounding Ray Rice and the NFL have created a powerful swell of conversation about domestic violence. Many people are speaking outsharing personal stories, and calling for less victim-blaming and more accountability for abusers and their public enablers. While we are outraged by the stories we hear daily at the Hotline, we are heartened by the support of so many people who recognize that there is no excuse for abuse.

Often, a lack of understanding about the dynamics of abuse leads to misguided comments and notions about why victims stay with their abusive partners, or how domestic violence isn’t that pervasive of an issue (because it’s so often hidden from the public). At the Hotline, there are a few things we know for sure about domestic violence:

Domestic violence happens everyday, in every community. Studies show that domestic violence affects roughly 12 million people in the United States. However, abuse is often not reported, in many cases due to a victim’s fear or not knowing where to turn. Maybe you know someone – a friend, a family member, a coworker – who is experiencing abuse at home with their partner. Maybe you’re experiencing it yourself. Whatever the case, please know that help is out there.

Domestic violence does not discriminate. It can happen to anyone, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, or religion.

Domestic violence isn’t just physical abuse. The media tends to focus on physical abuse, but domestic violence includes emotional, verbal, sexual, and/or financial abuse.

Domestic violence is complex. Each person’s situation is unique, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution to domestic violence. There are many reasons victims stay in abusive relationships. What they need – what they deserve – are resources and support to help them find their own paths to safety.

Domestic violence is not the victim’s fault. The choice to be abusive lies solely with the abusive partner.

We believe that ALL people deserve to feel safe and respected in their relationships. If you or someone you know needs help, we are here to support you. Contacts to the Hotline are anonymous and confidential. Call us 24/7 at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233), or chat here on our website Monday through Friday, 9am-7pm CT.

$20 covers the total cost of one phone call to the Hotline, and one phone call can be life-changing. If you would like to show your support for domestic violence victims and survivors with a donation, please fill out our secure online donation form. Thank you!

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I See DV as the Outcome of Economic, Social & Political Inequality

Money issues can limit a survivor’s ability to move past abuse. Sara Shoener, Research Director at the Center for Survivor Agency and Justice and our guest blogger, works to educate survivors on ways to recover financially from domestic violence. Today she shares her perspective on how abuse, money and freedom intersect.

dvam-sarah-shoener

Please tell us about the work that you do.

I am the Research Director for the Center for Survivor Agency and Justice, which is a national organization dedicated to enhancing advocacy for survivors of domestic violence. We bring together experts to provide training to advocates and attorneys, to organize communities and to offer leadership on addressing the critical issues domestic violence survivors are currently facing across the country.

Right now we are focusing on our Consumer Rights for Domestic Violence Survivors Initiative, where we are working with a group of inspiring consumer rights, anti-poverty, and domestic violence attorneys and advocates to develop some really ground-breaking projects, training, and written resources that focus on domestic violence survivors’ physical and economic security.

How do domestic violence and finances intersect?

Economic hardship and domestic violence exacerbate one another. Research shows that women living in poverty experience domestic violence at twice the rates of those who do not. Domestic violence increases financial insecurity, and in turn, poverty heightens one’s vulnerability to domestic violence. Batterers’ acts of sabotage and control can create economic instability that last long after the abuse has ended.

Domestic violence has been linked to a range of negative economic outcomes such as housing instability, fewer days of employment, job loss and difficulty finding employment. Correspondingly, poverty limits one’s options for achieving long-term safety.

Domestic violence survivors often rank material factors such as income, housing, transportation, and childcare as their biggest considerations when assessing their safety plans. Given the relationship between finances and domestic violence, it’s not surprising that research has often reported income to be one of (if not the) biggest predictors of domestic violence.

What does economic abuse look like?

It can look like a lot of things, but is generally thought of as batterers’ tactics to control their partners or ex-partners by restricting or sabotaging their access to material resources. Something we hear about a lot is abusers putting survivors’ names on bills or taking credit cards out in survivors’ names to drive them into debt and ruin their credit.

Employment sabotage, such as hiding a survivor’s car keys on the day of a job interview or stalking her or him at work, is also economic abuse. Batterers use institutions survivors often navigate to bolster their economic abuse, too. For example, an abuser might use the custody court system to require the mother of his children not to move out of the area, arguing that if she leaves he will not be able to see his children as easily.

Survivors who have received orders like this have been forced to give up economic opportunities in other places such as better jobs, affordable education, and rent sharing with family members. Other batterers continually file protection orders against their partners and ex-partners in order to force them to miss school or work to be present in court.

Domestic violence can create economic damage that endures long after an abusive relationship is over, too. Survivors often face damage to their credit reports, social networks, bodies, mental wellbeing and professional reputations that generate persistent economic loss. These negative economic impacts restrict survivor’s options and as increase their vulnerability to future harm.

What interested you in this work? 

The short answer is that I recently spent many months on a research project where I had the opportunity to meet domestic violence survivors from different communities and interview them about their experiences seeking safety through institutions such as the court system, public housing and law enforcement.

What I heard from all types of people in all types of places was that they didn’t have the economic stability necessary to end the abuse they were experiencing. Sometimes that included huge ongoing expenses such as affording rent on one’s own. Other costs were more of a one-shot-deal, such as having to take time off work to go to court for a protection order.

The beginning of the longer answer is that the domestic violence survivors I have met are some of the strongest, smartest, kindest and most resilient people I will ever be lucky enough to know. Yet, they often face institutional barriers to safety rooted in social factors such as race, class and gender. Because of that, I find this work especially important and meaningful.

Please complete this sentence. I see DV ___________.

I see domestic violence as the outcome of economic, social, and political inequality.

About Our Contributor

Sara Shoener is the Research Director at the Center for Survivor Agency and Justice. She has been advocating for and conducting research on effective approaches to reduce violence against women for over 10 years. Sara’s love of qualitative research stems from the opportunity it grants to listen to and learn from women’s narratives. As a result, she has conducted numerous focus groups, surveys, needs assessments, program evaluations and in-depth interviews related to anti-violence projects. A Truman Scholar and American Association of University Women Dissertation Fellow, Ms. Shoener is a doctoral candidate at Columbia University, where she also obtained her MPH.

Mary Kay survey

Get Back Your Green: Tips for Economic Recovery After Abuse

“Money makes the world go round.” If you’ve ever struggled with money, you know the truth behind that frustrating saying. Financial issues can make you feel stuck, like your whole world is on hold. For someone leaving abuse or thinking about leaving, this can be one of biggest factors that gets in the way.

A survey sponsored by Mary Kay, Inc. in 2012 found that 74% of survivors stayed with an abusive partner for longer than they wanted to because of financial concerns. It’s also one of the main barriers for those who are trying to leave.

Exiting an abusive situation is more challenging if a victim is stressing about finances while trying to rebuild their life. Financial difficulties can also be a reason victims return to abusers.

In a time when there are so many other things to think about and plan for, how do you safeguard against some of the financial risks that come with leaving?  We’ve put together some tips for economic safety and recovery that are helpful right after leaving. Please know that these may not be the right options for everyone. Please evaluate your own situation, and keep your safety in mind.


Securing your financial information

If your ex has knowledge of or access to your passwords, SSN, credit card statements or other identifying info, it could be a good idea to take measures to keep your personal info safe.

Call banks, credit card companies and utility companies (including wireless phone services) to change your account numbers, PIN numbers and passwords. Change the passwords to online banking and email accounts.

Close any joint credit cards. You may consider opening your own checking account and applying for a credit card if you don’t already have one, in order to start building your own credit history.

To further secure your financial information, open a P.O. box for mail and any financial documents you might receive.

Accessing your credit report

A credit report shows if bills and loans have been paid on time and if there are any outstanding loans or money owed. You can request a free copy of your credit report from any of the following agencies — and that’s a good place to start. Review your credit report at least once a year.

Equifax at 1-800-525-6285

Experian at 1-888-EXPERIAN (397-3742)

TransUnion at 1-800-680-7289

Annual Credit Report at 1-877-322-8228

Credit reports can determine the amount and interest rate of loans you apply for. A good credit history is also important for renting a home, getting insurance, applying for a job and more — employers, insurance companies and creditors often check your credit report.

Addressing and rebuilding a bad credit report

In starting to repair a bad credit score, remember to make consistent payments on rent and loans. While these often won’t show up on your credit report, you can ask landlords, utility companies and other creditors to supply this info when you’re applying for credit. A record of on-time payments looks good.

You can also ask these people to write positive credit reference letters for you when you’re applying for credit.

Building up a good credit score takes time, but paying bills on time, paying off debt, correcting and disputing any mistakes and refraining from building up additional debt are steps in the right direction.


Additional Resources

Local domestic violence programs have different resources you can access for support and these programs can also help with your safety concerns after leaving. If you call NDVH at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) our advocates can locate programs in your community.

  • The Allstate Foundation’s Click to Empower is an organization designed specifically to assist survivors with economic challenges. They have online resources, courses and grants to help survivors “get safe, stay safe and thrive.”
  • The Women’s Institute for Financial Education (WIFE) has many helpful articles in the Divorce category.
  • Women’s Law includes more information on financial protections to take if you’re getting ready to leave or have just left an abusive relationship.

Are you a survivor who faced financial hardships once you left? How did you handle financial obstacles?

when money becomes a form of power and control

When Money Becomes a Form of Power and Control

Imagine getting an allowance when you were a young kid. Maybe you’d get a dollar or two every week — you’d hide it away to save up for something big, or you’d feverishly rush to the store and spend it all at once and quickly fall into sugar shock from your candy purchases.

Now imagine getting an allowance as an adult. This time not from your parents, but from your partner. This allowance comes not with excitement and joy, but with feelings of confinement, frustration and maybe resentment. Maybe this is enough to buy necessities, but it might not be — and your partner always checks the receipts.

Money can be a stressful factor in any relationship. When there are intermingling finances, bills to be paid and considerations to be made about saving for the future, money can become a source of conflict. In a healthy relationship, each partner feels like they have a say in decision-making, even when it comes to money.

In a relationship where some form of abuse is present — whether physical or emotional — it is not uncommon that an abusive partner extends their power and control into the area of finances. This is known as economic or financial abuse and it can be very difficult to recognize. It can be something as seemingly innocent as an abuser telling their partner what they can and cannot buy, or something as major as an abuser restricting a partner’s access to bank accounts.

This abuse can take different forms, including:

  • Giving an allowance and closely watching how their partner spends it or demanding receipts for purchases
  • Placing the partner’s paycheck in their bank account and denying them access to it
  • Preventing their partner from viewing or having access to bank accounts
  • Forbidding their partner to work or limiting the hours that they can work
  • Maxing out credit cards in their partner’s name without permission or not paying the bills on credit cards, which could ruin their significant other’s credit score
  • Stealing money from their partner or their partner’s family and friends
  • Using funds from children’s savings accounts without their partner’s permission
  • Refusing to give their partner money, food, clothing, gas or medicine
  • Living in their partner’s home but refusing to work or contribute to the household
  • Making their partner give them their tax returns or confiscating joint tax returns

When an abusive partner is in control of the finances, planning for an independent future without them can feel difficult. Thankfully, there are many organizations that aid survivors of domestic violence and financial abuse. These groups can help create plans that will support a victim who is attempting to leave and can also help them become economically stable and self-sufficient after leaving.

No one should prevent you from having access to the money that you earn. If your partner is acting in any of these ways, call us at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Our advocates can help you come up with ways to save money and can also connect you with local programs. Stay tuned for a post on Thursday to learn about these organizations and about tips for economic safety within your relationship.

talking with children

50 Obstacles to Leaving: 11-20

Can you imagine the frustration of a victim being asked, “Why don’t you just leave?”

While leaving seems like a quick and easy fix to escape abuse, we know that leaving an abusive partner is a complicated, difficult challenge and often the most dangerous time in a relationship. Victims have many reasons for staying. This week we’re giving you 50, adapted from Sarah M. Buel’s “Fifty Obstacles to Leaving, a.k.a., Why Abuse Victims Stay.”

11. Family Pressure: Family members exert pressure if they believe there’s no excuse for leaving a marriage or if they’re in denial about the abuse.

12. Fear of Retaliation: The batterer has shown willingness to carry out threats and the victim fears harm to themselves or the children if they leave.

13. Fear of Losing Child Custody: The batterer has used the threat of obtaining custody to exact agreements to their liking.

14. Financial Abuse: Financial abuse can take many different forms depending on the couple’s socio-economic status — ex. If victims have been forced to sign false tax returns or take part in other unlawful financial transactions.

15. Financial Despair: The victim realizes that they cannot provide for themselves or their children without the batterer’s assistance.

16. Gratitude: The victim feels gratitude toward the batterer because the batterer has helped support and raise their children from a previous relationship, or take care of them if they have health, medical or other problems.

17. Guilt: Batterers have convinced victims that the violence is happening because it’s their fault.

18. Homelessness: Homeless abuse victims face increased danger, as they must find ways of meeting basic survival needs of shelter, food, and clothing while attempting to elude their batterers.

19. Hope for the Violence to Cease: This hope is typically fueled by the batterer’s promises of change, pleas from the children, or family’s advice to save the relationship.

20. Isolation: The victim has been cut off from family, friends and colleagues and lacks a support system or people to stay with.