Economic Empowerment - Strategies for Staying Safer

These basic strategies may help you stay safe while you are with your partner or after you have left. Work with your advocate to assess which of these will be safe for you. In addition, we have provided links to some resources we feel may be helpful to survivors and the advocates providing them service. We don't necessarily endorse or support all of the opinions of these organizations. Rather we wish to link survivors of economic abuse to resources they may find useful.

Make Budgeting and Saving Money Part of Your Safety Play
Whether you have left or are still with your abuser, budgeting and saving can be part of your safety plan. A budget can help you plan and give you an idea of how much money you need to live safely.  Also, you can begin saving right away by only putting aside small bits of money at a time. Talk with your advocate about safe strategies to save money. You can also use this simple budget sheet to assist you.

You can also use a debt calculator to assist in you in planning your budget. This is a great way to calculate different options to pay off debt. It can tell you how long it will take to pay off a debt with minimum payments, give an outline on how to pay off debt within a certain time, or tell you how much interest you will end up paying on your debt. Bankrate.com offers a great selection of debt and money management calculators: http://www.bankrate.com/calculators.aspx.

If you decide to leave your abuser, try to collect important documents
Copies of financial documents, like past tax returns and your partner's paycheck stubs, can be very helpful as you seek separation. You may also need other documents like birth certificates, passports and, immunization records. Please assess if you can safely gain a copy of these documents before you leave. If you are missing important documents or need to leave without them, you may be able to replace these later. This document may provide some help.

Can you get an Order of Protection?
An order of protection is a court order that prohibits the abuser from harassing you. It can prohibit the abuser from harassing you at your work or home. It can also remove the abuser from your home. Orders of Protection may also be used as a tool for economic relief by granting you things like child support, spousal support or mortgage or rental payments. If you would like assistance on obtaining on order or protection, please contact your local domestic violence program.

Choose a bank that meets your safety needs
You may need to open a new bank account. There are many options and you need to choose a bank that fits your needs. Is this bank a safe location for you? Is the location easy for you to get to; is it well lit or in an area you are comfortable with; does your abuser bank there? If you choose an online bank, make sure you have an email address that is secure.

Obtain your free credit report... if it's safe
You are entitled to a free credit report each year from each of the three credit report bureaus by visiting annualcreditreport.com. You won’t get your score for free, but you will be able to see your report and verify that all of the information is correct. This can be a great first step to find out the details of your finances. However, if you are concerned about your abuser discovering your current location, consider requesting the report using the last address your abuser knew. Your advocate may have more strategies to help you obtain your credit report safely.

Note: Requesting a credit report may not be safe for some survivors of domestic violence. If your abuser regularly looks at your credit history, you may be endangering yourself by getting the report on your own. Requesting the report could update your most recent address and contact information and let your partner know where you are. If you are concerned about your safety, please contact your local domestic violence program and ask for ways that you may be able to get your credit report safely. This site will need some personal information from you to verify your identity. If you do not feel comfortable giving your personal information over the internet, you can also request your report by fax or phone.

Putting a Fraud Alert or Credit Freeze on your Report
A fraud alert puts a note on your credit report that someone may be using your personal identification without your permission. This will make it more difficult for you or someone else to get new credit in your name. Fraud alerts are free and must be resubmitted every 90 days to your report. A credit freeze will “freeze” your credit history. No one will be able to take out new credit or cancel current credit in your name until the freeze is removed. While it is free to put a credit freeze on your report, it will cost $10 per bureau to remove the freeze. A credit freeze is not recommended for most people and especially not if you anticipate taking out any new credit (like a credit card or a loan) soon.

You place a fraud alert or credit freeze on a credit report by contacting just one of the three credit bureaus (by phone or through the website). As soon as one places a fraud alert on your account, it will notify the other two bureaus who must also add the fraud alert to the account.

The three credit bureaus are:
Equifax: 1-877-576-5734; www.equifax.com
Experian: 1-888-397-3742; www.experian.com/fraud
TransUnion: 1-800-680-7289; www.transunion.com

Note:  Placing a fraud alert or a credit freeze on your credit report could endanger your safety. If your abuser attempts to take out new credit in your name, he/she will be denied. This may not create a safe situation for you. If you are concerned about your safety, contact your local domestic violence program advocate to discuss a safety plan.

Know your rights at Work
Disclosing your abuse at work is a difficult decision. However, this can also be a good safety strategy. You can request a new location at the office or ask to have someone walk you to your car. The Victims Economic Safety and Security Act (VESSA) of Illinois provides you with rights at work. Under this act, your employer must make reasonable accommodations to keep you safe, cannot fire you because you are a victim of domestic violence, and must give you adequate unpaid time off to deal with your abuse. For more information on VESSA, visit the website for the Illinois Deparment of Labor.
 
Use a Safer Computer
Sharing a computer with a batterer, or having a computer to which your abuser has access, can put you at risk of your activities being monitored. There is hardware and software that allows someone to see the websites you have visited, any chats you have contacted, the words you have typed, ect. If at all possible, use a safer computer at a public place such as a library or community center.

Access Safe Housing Options
If you decide to leave your abuser, you have housing options. Under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), you can have your name removed or remove your abusers name from a shared lease or rental agreement. Additionally, under the Safe Homes Act of Illinois, you also have the right to end a lease or rental agreement early or have the locks changed on a shared dwelling. You also may not be responsible to any damage done to the residence if was related to the abuse. For more information about your housing rights, visit the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law.