US Homicide Prevention Tool IDENTITY CHANGE PROGRAM Failing While Government Funding Continues for NNEDV and Key Experts

 

Maria DiBari

February 7, 2012
 
High-risk victims of domestic violence and stalking are more frequently seeking identity change for survival as a last resort. With advancements in technology, perpetrators have the ability to locate and pursue their victims with ease.  Batterers in domestic violence cases are armed with their victim’s personal identifiers such as, social security numbers, mother’s maiden name, along with victims banking and other financial information, and that makes it easier for a perpetrator to track and stalk their victim.

Victims struggle to obtain a new social security number and direct stalking services, and the national support system has not evolved to meet the needs of victims today.  In order for the Identity Change tool to work, it must be efficiently coordinated by a team of individuals capable of guiding victims through the Social Security Administration’s policies and procedures.  Victim follow-up procedures are paramount in the success of the program. Because of the inefficiencies in the program, victims are turning to volunteer agencies Survivors In Action and Tri-County Crisis Center, Inc. for direct support, yet neither agency is funded to facilitate the program or provide service. 

Homicide Prevention Specialist and Founder of Tri-County Crisis Center, Maria DiBari, states “Since Identity Change is a homicide prevention tool for high-risk victims of stalking and violence, changes and updates to the program are long over due. Specific individuals need to be assigned to handle intake and follow-up for each and every victim utilizing this resource for homicide prevention.”

Appointed individuals should act as liaisons to government agencies and assist in policy and procedural updates nationwide, and should train and educate victim service providers, law enforcement, prosecutors, and victim witness agencies regarding stalking and homicide prevention methods. Specifically, identity change procedural training is vital for VSPs to make informed decisions before referring a victim.

The Social Security Administration has always responded poorly to domestic violence and stalking victims’ requests for identity change. Sending out a standardized letter or responding with a phone call indicating that they cannot issue a new social security number because of lack of ongoing abuse or documentation has become the “norm” for many survivors. Professional Angler Karen Elkins, along with Survivors In Action’s founder, Alexis Moore, have both experienced this automated response from SSA and have personally attempted to contact SSA officials and Valenda Applegarth, OVW technical assistance provider and the key person for identity change in the US, with the hope of reforming the system for the betterment of victims. The Office of Inspector General and SSA responded by requesting that Survivors In Action, a volunteer crime victims agency, discontinue supporting victims and cease and desist.  Shortly after, the ACLU in Northern California came to Moore’s aid and began representing Survivors In Action.

Alexis Moore, revered as the world’s premier expert and a pioneer in cyberstalking awareness and prevention training for crimes involving technology, is a former high-risk domestic violence and stalking victim that was left behind by paid advocates like National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV) Vice President, Cindy Southworth and Valenda Applegarth nearly 8 years ago. Moore attempted to change her social security for her safety, as advised by advocates and law enforcement, and was immediately denied. She quickly recognized the flaws in the system and related programs. After her denial, Moore began taking action to reform the support system that exists today, receiving no cooperation from agencies like the NNEDV.

“I was referred to the identity change program as part of my “safety planning” back in 2004, only to face more hurdles than I started with. I was overly referred and victimized by the same system that is supposed to provide support to victims. Since 2004, I have made it my mission to help reform the victim resources of today for abuse and stalking victims, and to ensure funding is allocated to agencies and individuals who provide direct support to victims of domestic violence and stalking.” Alexis states.

Since 2004, Moore has served as an advisor to victims across the nation seeking identity change and privacy protection services, and has attempted to reform services for high-risk stalking and domestic violence victims.  Her attempts to collaborate with Valenda Applegarth and other agency professionals have been repeatedly ignored.

“I will continue to be a voice for victims left behind by the SSA and by agencies and individuals that are funded to serve domestic violence and stalking victims. My efforts in promoting awareness for resource reform will not stop until there is a National Oversight Committee, monitoring the progress of funded organizations and those left behind.” Alexis Moore, Founder of Survivors In Action.

Today, those successful at changing their identity are faced with many obstacles, such as accusations of identity theft, the inability to find work, credit or obtain a driver’s license. Shelter employees, along with public safety employees, are not efficient in handling these cases. Victims seeking identity change are referred to VP Cindy Southworth, Safety Net Director of NNEDV, and then referred from Southworth to Program Director Valenda Applegarth, and referred back to a hotline number by Applegarth.  For victims referred to this program, it is a never ending, confusing cycle that rarely ends successfully. 

According to Cindy Southworth, “The National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV) and Greater Boston Legal Services (GBLS) have a joint initiative where we provide targeted training and technical assistance on survivor relocation and identity protection for multiple grantees of the Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) at the Department of Justice. With less than 1 full-time position funded at each organization, our project tries to meet the immense demand from OVW grantees for training and technical assistance surrounding victims’ desires to relocate and remain safe from perpetrators of violence.”. After reviewing the 2009 NNEDV tax records, Southworth brings in more than $101, 000 in income.  In fact, there are multiple individuals bringing in a six-figure salary as high as $400,000 at the NNEDV. 

A recent Tri-County Crisis Center client was looped through this system, and advised to call their hotline number after reaching out through email. Instead of reaching a person, the victim was prompted to leave a call back number by a recording.  This is unsafe for victims, as a perpetrator could answer the call, putting the victim in a dangerous situation.  Although this victim stated that the only safe communication method was email, she was advised by Southworth and Applegarth to call the hotline anyway. No one from the program has responded since the message was left. This is unacceptable, especially while paid professionals are overly referring victims in a state of crisis, and yet, continue to receive government funding and top executive salaries. 

In order to reform the system, and urge our nation about the need of resource reform, we need the support of victims, family members of victims lost, tax payers and generous donors to join in the DV Reform Movement by visiting http://dvreform.org/ .  The US’s domestic violence identity change program is not working for victims of violence and stalking.

Source: http://survivorsinaction.org/