In 2008 the NNEDV Safety Net Project in partnership with Valenda Applegarth of Greater Boston Legal Services released a document entitled “Myths & Realities of Identity Change”. http://nnedv.org/downloads/SafetyNet/NNEDV_IdentityChange_MythsAndRealities.pdf Reading through this document should be enough to dissuade anyone from wanting to sign on the dotted line but in case it might still sound like a risk worth taking, I’d like to share the real realities of identity change that’ll scare you more then any abuser will. (Please take a moment to read and refer to the Myths & Realities document before continuing.)
First, please know that in order to be accepted by the NNDVV "program" you have to have proof - concrete, solid, evidentiary, third party corroborated proof - of your victim-survivor status; you can't just walk into an SSA office and on your own testimony say "I'm a victim of DV; please change my SSN". What this means is if your identity has been changed through the NNDVV effort, you have passed an extremely high burden of proof that verifies and confirms your legitimate status as a victim-survivor of DV. This also means that NNDVV participants are survivors with some of the most highly lethal abusers known to the system actively stalking them.
Chances are (as you're reading this article) you're not fearing for your life; you're not shaking, you're not an emotional wreck, you've probably gotten some sleep and had some food in the last 24 hours – so in this calm, rational and non-emotional state, you could make a level-headed informed decision about a serious issue like identity change. Unfortunately NNDVV applicants arrive vulnerable, fearing for their lives, shaking, as emotional wrecks, sleep-deprived and so stressed that they cannot remember when they ate last. NOT the best condition to be in or to make decisions in but that’s the toll stalking takes on its victims.
So imagine you’ve gotten past the crisis; you’ve signed your name on the dotted line and have had your identity changed thanks to the NNDVV. Out of immediate danger and wits about you, you can now contemplate the myths and realities of your new lease on life. Myth #1:
Your name and SSN# have been changed but you still have “the same financial and legal obligations” from your former name and SSN#. So how are you going to make good on those obligations WITHOUT establishing a connection between your old and new identities? "...your life might become more difficult"? Try your life will become more difficult!
Remember how I talked about Homeland Security not knowing about the NNDVV service (as well as some of the SSA’s own staff) in the previous article? “When the federal government makes a SSN change, they have to share that with quite a few other federal and state agencies…” That should actually read “…they’re supposed to share that with quite a few other federal and state agencies”. In your own experience with our government, do you think everyone’s all on the same page?
Recall how I talked about fraud investigations being launched into the victim-survivors’ identities? Wanna guess whose lodging those investigations? Hint: they’re the federal and state agencies who were supposed to have been informed of the victim-survivor’s identity change!
Myth #2 just cracks me up: documentation – WHAT documentation?! If there were documentation to verify and confirm what actually happened, your tax dollars wouldn’t be wasted in persecuting abuse victim-survivors through expensive and time-consuming investigations!
If a state simply crosses out your old name and adds your new name on a legal document, do you think that’ll look more credible or more suspicious to an investigator whose looking for evidence of fraud? And by-the-way, those source documents and cross-checks being referred to? Those are the vehicles that trigger the investigations!
How do you explain and get anyone to believe that you have “government sanctioned permission” to lie or to sign your name as Mary Jo Barker when you’re really Mary Jane Baker without the documented proof to show that? Aside from no documentation, no one at any level will be willing to vouch for you, testify to say that you didn’t know any better or explain that in order to successfully survive with a new identity that you HAVE to lie and commit fraud!
Pay close attention to Reality #3: you will lose
- your credit history
- professional accomplishments and certifications (and licenses!)
- education credentials and degrees
Personally, I’d rather die as who I am with the accomplishments my hard work has earned then to live and have to redo it all! Then again, I was never faced with this identity change option or possibility in my darkest hour either; if I were in fear of my life, afraid that my children would be killed and the NNDVV was presented to me as a life-saving option, I dunno… When emotion goes up, thinking goes down so in such a panicked state I may very well have been terrified enough to sign up to get us out of immediate danger now and think about what it all means later.
"Since you don't have a credit history, it will be difficult to get a credit card or loan." Difficult?! Try impossible! And without an educational or employment history, do you think getting a job is merely "difficult" or more like impossible?
You can always embellish a little and create an educational/employment history to go along with your new identity (that’s committing fraud on an application by-the-way) depending upon the risk you think you face in terms of being caught during a cross or background check (and in today’s climate, do you think anyone’s more or less likely to check up on who you say you are?)
Regarding Myth #4: If your name change is not “completely confidential” and may require public notice, do you REALLY want to advertise what you’re doing when you’re being actively hunted? If the NNDVV service was put into place because stalking-abusers thwarted and outsmarted existing safety precautions, what makes you think they’re not going to pay attention to a public notice having to do with their intended victim?!
The reality of Myth #5 is every survivor’s reality and sadly with social media, survivors really can’t share pictures and details of their new lives with anyone on the internet if they’re trying to remain invisible to an abuser.
The picture Myth #6’s reality paints is drastically understated and dangerously incomplete. What’s stated is the obvious BUT what’s not being said (because they didn’t seem to think it through at the time) is what happens to the children whose identities are changed along with their mother’s.
These NNDVV children often have a tendency to grow up and want to do things like get a driver’s license or apply to college – think they might need source documents of their own and protection from fraud investigations that could land them in jail and expose their survivor mom? You betcha! But is there anything in-place to protect them from this? What do you think? (Answer = NO.)
Think about a NNDVV kid’s social and/or romantic life too: if the moms have to lie about their true identities to everyone, what do you think the kids have to do? Can you imagine the responsibility placed on these kids? They can never be truly honest with their best friends or with a boyfriend/girlfriend because just one fallout with an entrusted BFF, a bad break-up with a boyfriend/girlfriend or a night where drinking too much results in talking too much is all it would take to compromise the entire life the victim-survivor’s painstakenly created for her and her kids.
When these kids realize they’re not free to be themselves, how do you think this affects their relationship with their survivor mom? Do you think they’re overflowing with affection and gratitude towards her for the sacrifice she decided to make for their safety or do you think they might be just a little angry and resentful towards her for being saddled with such a heavy and unfair burden?
The sad reality to the last myth is that the first part of it is true: “There’s nothing I can do to protect myself and my children…” If a victim-survivor has successfully escaped the abusive relationship (wasn’t killed in the process of leaving) and is trying to re-establish herself as independent of the abuser, she will not be allowed to take self-protective measures or protect her children from further abuse – enter the Family Court Crisis (see attached You Tube video to learn more about that nightmare).
Survivors cannot survive without support to do so and what happens post-separation can (believe it or not) actually be worse then the abusive relationship! If the victim could’ve stopped the abuse to begin with she would’ve but because she couldn’t, she had to leave and once she’s left, she’s still in no better of a position to stop the abuser all by herself – that’s why third parties must intervene long term to ensure the survivor and children’s ongoing safety! Identity change and hiding is not enough; Hide & Seek is a stalker’s favorite game so hiding will only make the game much more intriguing and challenging.
The risks of identity change outweigh any short-term benefits and the consequences for being “caught” are severe and unforgiving. This month marks the two-year anniversary of a NNDVV participant’s incarceration in a federal jail for following the bad “reclaim your life” advice provided to her by “a program expert”.
Until the glitches with this NNDVV policy/“program” are ironed out and protection measures for the participants be put in-place, everyone whose in it is at INCREASED RISK so if you’re a victim-survivor, avoid it like the plague and be as creative as you possibly can in coming up with (legal) alternative strategies to keep you and your kids safe.