Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Preparing for Disaster Series (Part 1 of 10): Domestic Violence

For the next couple of weeks I want to focus on ten scenarios that can have disastrous affects on you as well as your finances. While there is never one sure fire plan to take care of every possible thing that could happen to you, there are a number of things to think of ahead of time that will help you out in the event that a particular disaster happens.

For the first part of this series, we will focus on domestic violence. Not only is it a problem that is currently affecting my family (see previous post), but as a former social service provider, this is one of the most common problems people would come to me for help with. In fact, is one of the problems that would bring the widest spectrum of clients to my door--all races, both genders, all ages, those who were rich, poor, or middle income, the well educated and the uneducated...basically no one was immune from this. Here are ten (financial) things to consider if you find yourself in a domestic violence situation:

  1. Get help from the experts, preferably for free. The National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-SAFE) is a good resource for general information. You can also call 211 to find local resources for domestic violence help in your community (ie: a DV shelter, DV court advocates, DV counselors, etc).

  2. Have an emergency fund. Unlike most people who keep an emergency fund with their spouse, this one you want to keep without your spouse's knowledge. Financial control is one of the most common ways that abusers control their victims. You may want to keep cash hidden in your house (may be difficult to access if you need to leave in a hurry), leave cash with a trusted friend or relative (make sure they won't spend it!), or open your own bank account (choose a different bank than you and your SO usually use, don't accept an ATM card for the account, and make sure the statements are only provided to you electronically or sent to a friend's house). You want to bulk up this fund up as much as possible, even if that means you can only put $10 a month in taken out of the grocery fund. Also, since without at ATM card you can't access your bank account on weekends, be sure to keep a little cash on hand to use until you can get to the bank.

  3. Keep all of your important documents on hand or, as abusers also use holding your documents as a method of control, scan them into your computer and keep copies of them on a hidden thumb drive. You want to scan the entire family's documents (yours, hubby's, kids) and want to include birth certificates, driver's licenses, passports, military records, list of financial assets, etc. This will help you sign up for emergency social services (food stamps, welfare) as well as provide necessary information for your attorney.

  4. Develop a circle of friends. Often abuse victims are isolated by their abuser to the point that they will have no one to turn to for help. If possible, let a few people know about your situation and find out if you can count on them if necessary. These people may include trusted co-workers, family members, people from church, or neighbors. Friends will be able to help with a range of things including hiding you until you can get help, taking care of your kids, giving you money, giving you a place to leave important items, etc.

  5. Keep a bag of emergency escape supplies in an easy to access place. You want a bag that includes a change of clothes, basic toiletries, a list of emergency phone numbers in case the abuser takes your phone, some cash, spare car and house keys, a thumb drive with your important documents on it, etc. You may not be able to keep this bag in your house so consider other places to keep it such as at work, at a friend's house, in a bus station locker, etc.

  6. Have an escape plan. In scenario-based planning, people consider all of the "what ifs" and make a plan for each possibility. What if things blow up and you need to get your kids from school but don't have a car? Idea: a friend can be added to the list of people who can pick up your kids and they can go get them. What if your abuser is flipping out and trying to kill you? Idea: teach your kids how to call 911. What if you only have a short period of time to escape? Idea: have a plan to exit the house, get to a safe location, get your emergency bag, and get assistance from a local DV agency. The bottom line is to think of every possibility and think of ideas to work around these possibilities so that you can escape and get help.

  7. Document, document, document. Often people who are in abusive relationships don't want to call the police, don't want to press charges, and don't want to go to the hospital if they are injured because they don't want the abuser to get arrested. While I always say call the police! press charges! I know that this doesn't often happen. What needs to be done however, whether you are ready to press charges or not, is to document the abuse as much as possible. Going to the hospital is one way to do this, taking photographs is another, keeping a diary at work of each incident, even having a co-worker keep this information for you, is a way to collect enough evidence that in the event that you eventually want to get a restraining order or press charges it will make it much clearer to the judge that there is cause to issue these orders.

  8. Once you escape, you will need to cover your tracks (often abusers have access to your cell phone and bank records so can track you this way). Buy a cheap, prepaid phone and turn off/take out the battery from your regular cell phone so it can't be tracked. Withdraw cash from your emergency bank account and pay cash for everything. You may need to apply for a new job so your abuser can't find you and enroll your children in another school depending on how likely it is that the abuser will hunt you down at these places. As a side note, don't use your home computer to plan your escape, look up resources, or otherwise find information that could be useful to your abuser--your internet history will provide this information to your abuser and you never know if key logger or other software to track you has been installed. Ditto, if the possibility that your car may have a GPS tracker on it (usually the police will be able to check your car for this if requested).

  9. Set up your defenses. Once you escape, keeping yourself and your kids safe becomes imperative. Staying at a DV shelter at first is a good, safe place since they are very security conscious and used to these types of situations. Take a self defense course (it will give you some confidence but shouldn't be depended on to save your life). Carry a weapon with you that you are trained to use (again, you don't want to confront your abuser and this is a last, LAST resort, but even something like pepper spray can give you a few minutes to escape if they track you down). Let people at work know about your situation and ask if certain safety precautions can be taken for your safety (change the location of your office, put a coded lock on the door so only employees can come in, transfer you to a different location, etc).

  10. Recovery. After you escape, you will need to start getting your life back in order. There are a number of legal things that need to be done (protection order, separation or divorce started, temporary child custody/support order) which DV agencies can often help with for free or at little charge. You will also want to see, if you are short on cash, what other sources of aid are available to you in your community such as temporary housing, food stamps, other welfare programs, etc. Many of these things can be found through the DV agency or by calling 211.

And a few resources:

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