“I just want to be normal!” mom sobbed into the phone. “I just want a quiet, normal life like everyone else! I’m tired of having to explain myself to people who don’t understand; tired of having no friends because someone’s found out ‘the truth’ about me; tired of looking for the people who DO understand because there are so few of them who do! You know, if I died right now I think only you and my kids would be the only ones who’d care!”
Mom had LOTS more to complain about and justifiably so – she’s one of the many abuse survivors who had an abuser-turned-stalker so severe and hell-bent on getting to her that her only option was to give up her life in order to save it. Can that even be done? Yes, but not without help.
In 1998 a presidential policy under the Clinton administration was launched to assist victim-survivors of domestic violence whose abusers had thwarted and outsmarted all known, conventional and available protection and safety measures. The solution to this problem for the victim-survivors trying to evade their dangerous stalkers was a drastic one: identity change and relocation.
Similar in concept to the Federal Witness Protection Program run by the Department of Justice under the auspices of US Marshals, the identity change portion of this relief for victim-survivors was assigned to the Social Security Administration (SSA) under the title New Numbers for Domestic Violence Victims (NNDVV) http://www.ssa.gov/pubs/EN-05-10093.pdf. As many SSA employees have told me over the years, “We’re a benefits agency; we don’t run social work-type programs for victims of domestic violence”. (Just this far, can anyone see the writing on the wall here? This is PROBLEM #1.)
The answer to the SSA’s “social work program” concern was to have domestic violence agencies and DV workers assist eligible victim-survivors with introduction and initiation to the NNDVV service; once the victim-survivor was “at SSA’s door” the SSA worker could then do their piece: replace a victim-survivor’s existing social security number (SSN) with a new one = identity change. (The other avenue to access NNDVV would be for the victim-survivor to approach the SSA office directly herself and apply for the NNDVV change without a DV caseworker’s assistance.) PROBLEM #2: what’s going to happen to the victim-survivor’s old SSN?
Back in 1998 (this is important!: pre-9/11 terrorism and at the early dawn of identity theft crime) the solution was a simple one: the old SSN would be dead (no longer active/traceable) so no one at “the retail level” would ever know that the victim-survivor was presenting a new SSN; only those in high-level administrative positions would know that the new SSN was replacing an old one (which wouldn’t be a daily issue or concern for any of the victim-survivors). While not accurate, that’s what the victim-survivors were told. What really happened to the old SSN is that it went dormant (as in no longer active but still traceable which could throw up a red flag if someone/an agency was conducting a thorough background check) which wouldn’t be such an awful thing if it weren’t for two factors that popped up after the NNDVV’s implementation… PROBLEM #3: the consequences of 9/11 and the rising crime of identity theft.
9/11/2001 literally changed the world we lived in overnight and to ensure that nothing like this would ever happen again our government went into quick action with Homeland Security taking the lead. After analyzing all the circumstances that led to 9/11, a few things stood out in terms of terrorist profiling – for one, some (if not all) of the terrorists had multiple names/identities – so post-9/11 someone with multiple names and/or identities would send up a red flag worth investigating and against the backdrop of terrorism, rightly so (but no one told Homeland Security or other background-checking agencies about the identity-changing favor the SSA was doing for victim-survivors).
About the same time the age of the internet was upon us and though we’ve always had scam artists around, cybercrime was born - and with it came an increase in identity theft as more and more of people’s information became available and accessible online. With heightened awareness of identity theft and a "be on the lookout for anything suspicious" attitude prevailing, what do you think the chances are for a NNDVV participant being mistaken for a terrorist or an identity thief? One thing's for sure: the chances of being detected or "caught" went UP, not down (which defeats the NNDVV's purpose in the first place: to make the victim-survivor UNdetectable!)
A consideration NNDVV participants didn't think through at the time they signed up (probably because they were too terrified to think straight fearing for their lives) was surrendering honesty; in order to have a new identity, you have to leave the God's honest truth behind at the door and learn to become a permanent liar - and not only a liar but a good liar (unapologetic and most crucially, convincing) because being a bad liar is going to get you caught and exposed. What's at stake? Just your safety, longevity and life.
If you're thinking "Well, considering what's at stake, having to lie about who you really are is no big deal" - considering what's at stake yea, having to say "My name is Mary Jo Barker" instead of "My name is Mary Jane Baker" isn't that big of a deal UNLESS you're signing an official or legal document affirming that you are who you say you are or are having to state your name under penalty of perjury (because the legal name for lying is called fraud and that's kinda illegal…)
PROBLEM #4: fraud. Put yourself in her shoes now: in order to successfully survive in your new identity, everything that’ll come out of your mouth will be a lie. Realize this after you’ve signed on the dotted line? Too bad – there’s no going back – so even if you’re morally opposed to being dishonest, dishonest is what you’re going to have to be. If that thought makes you uncomfortable, think about this one: what are the chances of getting caught? (See PROBLEM #3) The answer: at the present time, MORE likely rather then less likely. If that thought makes you uncomfortable, think about this one: what happens IF I’m caught lying/”committing fraud” because I have no choice but to lie? The answer: PROBLEMS #5, 6 and 7...