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know your rights

From Your Home to the Workplace: Know Your Rights

Leaving an abusive relationship or having just left one can be an extremely difficult time, made even more complicated by the concerns that come with your work and home. Thankfully there are laws in place that help prevent employment and housing discrimination — such as being evicted or refused time off because of the abuse.

Employment Rights

If you’re planning on leaving an abusive relationship or you’ve just left, knowing your rights regarding your job can be crucial. These laws vary state by state and may fluctuate depending on what kind of job you have.

The state you’re living in may have laws that prohibit your employer from firing or punishing you if you need to take time off to go to court, for example. Some of these laws allow for unpaid leave in such circumstances.

There are also laws against ‘wrongful termination’ if you’ve been fired, demoted, suspended or forced to quit if your employer learns that you’re a victim of domestic violence.

This is a useful resource for learning about federal and state employment law protections.

Some employers also have Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) offering different assistance and counseling services. Speak to your HR department to see what types of options may exist for you.

Housing Rights

Housing discrimination against victims occurs far too often, so learning about your rights can be extremely important if you’re thinking about leaving a relationship or have recently left.

Some states have laws that allow victims to terminate their leases, have their locks changed and more. There are also laws that help safeguard against being evicted or losing your housing because of the violence. These laws differ on local, state and federal levels.

The recently reauthorized Violence Against Women Act has expanded provisions about housing rights of victims.

Laws are continually being changed and interpreted in different ways. Visit Women’s Law to find out about how to speak with a legal advocate in your area.

Public Assistance Program Rights

Everyone has the right to apply for different public assistance programs. State Welfare Programs known as TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) are for families with low or no income. There are also community assistance programs that you may be eligible for in your area.

Calling 2-1-1 can connect you to local services to get help with food, housing, employment, health care, counseling and more.

If you call NDVH at 1-800-799-SAFE, our advocates can also help look up the local offices in your area so you can begin to learn more about what you may qualify for (ex. Medicaid, food stamps) and how to apply.

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?

leaving safely

Leaving Safely – Part 2

In addition to packing and planning, there are a few other measures you can take to safeguard against potential problems that may arise when you’re leaving. As we see on today’s Dr. Phil episode, “Saving Julie: The Final Decision,” getting out of an abusive relationship is a dangerous, difficult time, and it is important to plan and have a support system in place.


Digital Safety

Don’t disclose any personal information online about your plans. If you’re making plans for leaving and communicating about it via a computer or cell phone, access a computer from the library or a friend’s house, or remember to clear your browser history. Make sure to tell friends to not post anything about your whereabouts online.

Don’t answer threatening or excessive texts or calls while you leave and after you’ve left. Let them go to voicemail. This also could be used to document the abuse — for example, 50 missed calls? Take a screen shot of that.

Cell phones can be tracked via GPS. Try a “throw away phone” or perhaps plan to get a new one and leave your old phone behind.

What about protective orders? 

A protective order is legal documentation to keep your abuser away from you, and can often contain provisions related to custody, finance, and more. However, these will require you to see your abuser in court, and are not always highly enforced. In this episode we see Danny describing how he broke a protective order and attacked his ex-girlfriend and a man she was with.

While protective orders may be able to put a stop to physical abuse, psychological abuse is still possible — so a protective order should never replace a safety plan.

Our advocates can speak to you about how a protective order works, as well as direct you to legal advocates that can provide you with specific information about this based on where you’re living. Different states have different processes for a protective order. Check out Women’s Law for more info.

If you already have a protective order, it should be kept on you at all times — as well as given to your children and anyone they might be with — especially when you’re leaving your abuser.

After You Leave

Consider making a “false trail.” For example, call motels far away from where you plan on being. Do this after you leave, otherwise it could tip off the abuser that you’re planning on leaving, which could be dangerous.

Remember that leaving will likely be difficult, and it’s important to have support and a plan in place. If you feel like leaving might be an option, give us a call at 1−800−799−SAFE(7233) to discuss options.

Our advocates at The Hotline are here for you to help create a safety plan for leaving as well as after you’ve left, and to make sure you have ongoing emotional support afterwards.

help a coworker

How to Help a Coworker Who Is Experiencing Abuse

Approximately 74% of employed domestic violence victims are contacted or harassed by their abusers while they are at work. Based on this statistic alone, it is possible that during your professional career, you may encounter a coworker who is experiencing domestic violence.

If someone is experiencing abuse at home, the effects of the abuse are likely to carry over into the work environment as well. You may notice changes in their behavior at work that could indicate that something is wrong. For instance:

  • Excessive lateness or unexplained absences
  • Frequent use of ‘sick time’
  • Unexplained injuries or bruising
  • Changes in appearance
  • Lack of concentration/often preoccupied
  • Disruptive phone calls or personal visits from their partner
  • Drops in productivity
  • Sensitivity about home life or hints of trouble at home

Follow your instinct, and if you feel like you should talk to them about what might be going on, do so. The worst that could happen is that they don’t want to talk – and even then, they at least know that you care. There’s no harm in asking. Work may be the one place where they can talk to someone safely without the abusive partner finding out. Also, your coworker may believe that you are more objective to their situation than family and close friends.

Be sure to approach them in a confidential manner, at a time and place without interruptions. When approaching the topic of domestic violence with your coworker, remember to be nonjudgmental. They may be embarrassed by the situation, and you might be the first person they are telling. Consider starting with a simple comment and question like, “You seem a bit preoccupied/stressed. Do you want to talk about it?” Give them the space to share what they want to share with you. Don’t pressure them.

If your coworker does open up to you about the abuse, listen and refer. Your role is not to fix the problem for them – sometimes, listening can be the most helpful. You might want to pass along some information to them. If it feels appropriate, pass on the number of the Hotline. We can help your coworker safety plan around their current situation and can refer them to local service providers.

If your coworker gives you permission, you can help them document the instances of domestic violence in their life. Take pictures of injuries, write down exact transcripts of interactions, make notes on a calendar of the dates that things happen. Documenting the abuse might help the victim to obtain legal aid later on.

If your coworker has been open with you about their situation, you can help them learn about their rights. Women’s Law is an excellent resource for information on domestic violence laws and procedures. Browsing this website with your coworker or giving them the link can provide them with crucial information.

Introduce them to the security guard, or volunteer to meet the security guard with them if they’d like help. Keeping the security guard at the office in the loop can help deter your coworker’s abuser from stopping by, make sure your coworker is escorted safely to and from the office space, and more.

Ask if they’d like to create a safety plan for their work environment. Ask what they would like you to do if their partner should call or stop by the office. If you’re having trouble coming up with a safety plan on your own, call The Hotline for assistance.

Above all remember that just supporting your coworker no matter what can make a difference. Respect their decisions – you may not know all of the factors involved. Your coworker may not do what you want or expect them to do. Instead of focusing on being the one to solve the problem for them, focus on being supportive and trustworthy in their time of need.

National Domestic Violence Hotline Blog

Domestic Violence and Immigration

survivorblogimageThe following blog entry is written by Lyn Twyman. She is a survivor and creator of the www.couragenetwork.com. Couragenetwork.com is a community for domestic violence advocates and organizations with a world-wide goal in mind to draw organizations, advocates and individuals together.

Domestic Violence and Immigration

I was 5 years old when I heard one of my parents frequent arguments end with a loud smacking sound.  I had just walked in the front door after the school bus had dropped me off in front of my house from a day at kindergarten to the loud yelling and arguing of my parents, unfortunately something I had grown accustomed to.  If you can imagine my father was well over 6 feet with a loud bellowing voice, my mother just under 5 feet.  With frustration and anger my father struck my mother, leaving a bright red hand mark on the left side of her fair, Asian face.  This was the first time I saw the expression of resentment and hate in my mother’s face for everything that led to that point.  That act of violence shattered the facade that my parents had built up to try to hide the truth from me, that their marriage was a sham and in no way functional.  There were deeply rooted problems within their relationship and after that moment my eyes were wide open to them.  Later I would realize there were great amounts of psychological and emotional abuse in my parent’s relationship that would be directed solely towards me.

My father was an American born in the south, a victim of abuse and neglect by an alcoholic father who was void of most emotion, except anger and depression spurred by the bottle.  My mother, the eldest of her siblings, grew up in third-world poverty with an extremely controlling mother.  In 1977, my mother started receiving pen pal letters from my father.  She became enamored with the idea of a man she had never met before, a man who promised to take care of her and give her a better life, more than what she could have ever imagined.  About a year later when my mother was 23, she immigrated to the United States.

The man who wrote such beautiful words on paper was not reflective of the man my mother met when she came to the U.S. and in less than a month, the fairy tale was over. The stark realities of the deception, lack of respect and obsession over my mother’s every movement was too much to endure. My mother however, was fearful to leave my father with the domestic violence taking place.  My father, a man ridden with personality disorders, would admit years later that his choice to marry my mother was due to the amount of “submissiveness” women like her had for their husbands and the ability to “teach” them and make them become what he wanted.

Unfortunately the story of my parents is not unique. It bares many similarities to the stories of many immigrants who find themselves in relationships where domestic violence is present.  One thing that remains consistent however, as with many instances of domestic violence,  is there is one person that seeks to have control over the other who is thought to be weaker.

Women and men have shared with me their personal experiences, and those of other immigrants who were involved in domestic violence relationships that they knew.  I began hearing similarities in the stories:

  • Victims had little interaction with people other than their partner or lived in complete isolation.
  • Victims were eventually embarrassed by their partner regarding their own language and culture.
  • Communication decreased over time with their families in their homeland.
  • Finances were controlled by the abusive partner.
  • The partner threatened to have them deported or have their children taken away from them if they showed signs of fighting back or escaping.

So many of these stories also began sounding familiar as I realized my mother had faced the same problems with my own father.

Help for Immigrants

Immigrants who are dealing with domestic violence face many challenges unlike those around them because of language and culture barriers.  Whether waiting for citizenship or seeking refugee status, immigrant victims of domestic violence do have rights and can get help to protect themselves from abuse.  There are organizations like American Immigration Lawyers Association, The National Immigration ProjectThe Tahirih Justice CenterWomensLaw.org and specialty organizations like The Asian Pacific American Legal Resource Center,  that help with direct services or referrals at little or no cost.   It is important that immigrant victims get trained advocates to support and assist them in the proper steps to make themselves and their children safer, whether the abuse is physical or not.  Another good online resource is the following link:  http://www.aardvarc.org/dv/immigration.shtml that talks more in depth about the issue and addresses aspects of the immigration process.  Also the spouses and children of U.S. citizens can self-petition to obtain lawful permanent residency under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).  VAWA also allows certain battered immigrants  to seek safety and independence from the abuser by filing for immigration relief without the abuser’s assistance or knowledge .

Domestic violence is wrong, period.  A person’s nationality does not exclude them from the physical and emotional pain that is inflicted from domestic violence.  The best thing we can do as advocates is to remember the warning signs of abuse, stay informed about the issue,  spread awareness and encourage our Federal immigration system to strengthen laws and distribute violence and abuse awareness materials, making them available in multiple languages to each person that comes to their offices and websites.

I am encouraged about the amount of work that has been done with this issue compared to my mother’s time as an immigrant but there is still much work to be done in raising awareness about the problem.  If you see someone who displays signs of being a victim, offer them in confidence the resources they can go to for help.  You will be surprised how far a bit of information and slice of humanity can go to help save a life and lead someone to new found freedom, hope and truly a much better life.

By Lyn Twyman