Really give PROBLEM #5 some thought: HOW do you rationally and believably explain to someone whose caught you in a lie that the truth is you’re a survivor of abuse who went through a government sponsored identity change? Would you like a cloak with that dagger or perhaps a straightjacket on your ride to the nearest psych ward?
Lie some more to explain your deception and you’ll eventually lose all credibility with your audience when they discover you’ve lied further to provide them with a sane, sense-making explanation. Come clean and tell the God’s honest truth? Whose going to believe you/your fantastic identity change story? This is bad enough to have to do with a new best friend or neighbor, but can you imagine being questioned by the authorities and having to explain to them why you lied/what the truth is?
If you’re thinking “Go back to the source; get evidence to prove your side of the story” here’s the “little” problem (#6) with that: the SSA will change your identity by providing you with a new SSN but that’s it; your new identity DOES NOT come with an instruction book, a directions manual, a case manager, a hotline number or even an official, letterhead document to prove that your identity has been changed through NNDVV. Some women who’ve gone through this have been “lucky” enough to receive a typewritten notice on an otherwise blank piece of paper stating “Your new SSN is now in effect” WITHOUT a pen ink signature on it but producing such a document as proof only increases suspicion, doubt and speculation because there’s no official letterhead and signature on it. As one investigator told a survivor, “You could’ve sat down at a typewriter and written this yourself!”
Besides no official documentation to back up your identity change claim, many survivors have been counseled to destroy/get rid of all evidence of their former identity to reduce the risk of connection or exposure – great for stopping a stalker, not-so-great in stopping an official investigation into who you are.
So if the chances for being caught, investigated and exposed are more then less, no one’s going to buy your story when you’re caught or confronted, you can’t provide any solid, concrete evidence to prove your story, can’t someone associated with the NNDVV vouch for you? Who would you turn to? (PROBLEM #7)
The victim-survivors are told if they run into any problems with their new identities, they can go to any SSA office and be helped but when they explain what’s going on to the SSA office worker they’re usually told, “We’re a benefits agency; we don’t run social work-type programs for victims of DV” and the SSA is not willing to get in the middle of any fraud investigations that don’t have anything to do with them.
When the victim-survivor pulls a brochure for the NNDVV out of the SSA office’s brochure holder to show the worker she’s not crazy, the SSA worker may be surprised to learn that such a service exists in their agency and will get his/her supervisor who will either immediately look uncomfortable or not know about the identity change service and seek out his/her supervisor. Why would the supervisor look uncomfortable? Because they’re a benefits agency and they don’t run social work-type programs for victims of DV!
If the victim-survivor came to the NNDVV service through a DV agency, she might be able to reconnect with the DV worker who assisted her but the DV worker won’t be able to do anything to really assist her or intervene with the situation since the DV workers can only act as a conduit to the NNDVV service.
In either situation, the SSA or DV agency may reach out for assistance to the nation’s “leading expert” on identity change for victim-survivors: Valenda Applegarth of Greater Boston Legal Services who authored the document “Myths & Realities of Identity Change” http://nnedv.org/downloads/SafetyNet/NNEDV_IdentityChange_MythsAndRealities.pdf in collaboration with the NNEDV Safety Net Project. As someone who travels around the nation doing training on and giving presentations about all the details of identity change for DV victim-survivors, the NNDVV policy has been misinterpreted as a program affectionately known in the DV community as “Valenda’s Program”.
Great – a nationally recognized expert who’ll be able to vouch for the victim-survivor, explain everything to authorities to undo/minimize the damage that’s already been done and who’ll be able to help call off whatever witch-hunt is taking place that’s risking the victim-survivor’s true identity from being exposed, right? WRONG!
All of this identity change stuff is just a tad bit dicey and seems to be dancing on the edge of illegal, don’t ya think? That’s what investigators think too which is why they think they’ve stumbled upon the fraud case of the century when a victim-survivor whose gone through an identity change gets caught “committing fraud” (but they’re not the only ones who are aware that all this looks dicey and can actually have criminal consequences…)
Victim-survivors seeking guidance and advice on how to conduct themselves, make decisions and live the rest of their lives post identity change are given advice and direction at their own peril; advice and suggestions are never written (ie: “You have a new name and a new identity so sure you’re able to take out student loans even though you reached your max in your previous name and identity”) leaving the victim-survivor vulnerable and solely responsible for the consequences of taking bad advice. Because advice is not written the responsibility for it is not traceable so even if the victim-survivor “comes clean” and identifies who gave her what advice, she’ll never be able to prove it.
In one of the most reprehensible crimes of character the advice-giver will proclaim the victim-survivor as “a program participant who broke the rules” (there’s no rule book, remember?) or sadly imply that the victim-survivor sounds like she’s a troubled individual who may have some mental health issues as a result of her abuse. Not blind to her contribution to and potential legal consequences of fraud, the advice-giver keeps herself safe from harm by throwing those she’s supposed to be championing and supporting under the bus.
While some serve lengthy jail sentences for following the bad advice or lose their children as a result of their NNDVV participation, countless other victim-survivors are now forced to live a lie under the constant fear of exposure by not only their abuser, but in our post 9/11 world, by everyone and anyone. And then there’s the mirror…
“Who am I?” mom cries. Six years into her “new” identity, mom looks into the mirror and says she can’t remember anymore – what’s real and what part of her is created? Mom’s a bad liar – a really bad liar – and can’t handle the complexity and constant stress of being untruthful. All I can do is offer a listening ear and empathy for her plight because until the problems with “Valenda’s program” get fixed, neither mom or any other victim-survivor whose had the misfortune to sign into NNDVV will have any rest, comfort or peace.