Changing Your Identity

The "Underground"

In the early days of the battered women's movement, private homes and secret refuges were created for women fleeing abusive environments. For various reasons — primarily safety, funding, and technology — these refuges have become matters of public record. Yet novels, movies and well-meaning individuals continue the fiction of an underground for battered women. This "underground" supposedly provides survivors a new identity, transportation, a place to live, a job, money and everything else needed to start a new life. To our knowledge, there is no such underground.

There is, however, an established network of domestic violence shelters. Using the shelter network may be possible for you, but it will be more complicated because your abuser is in law enforcement. Police know the location of shelters. The shelter may require personal information that you are unwilling to give. They may require you to file a police report or get a protective order to remain in the shelter. The shelter may be reluctant to jeopardize their relationship with the local police by harboring an officer's family. You may believe there is no other viable option than to change your identity so the abuser cannot find you. But this too is unrealistic as employers, service providers, creditors, law enforcement, and the government compile and share enormous databases.

Leaving Everything Behind

Changing your identity and starting over means more than changing your name, phone number, address, or social security number. It means your children leaving their school, you quitting your job and abandoning your career, leaving all friends and family behind. You will have to drop anything that links to your former identity or that could lead the abuser to you. And this is virtually impossible. We are tethered to technology today. Cell phones, cameras, computers, e-mail, credit cards, ATMs, cars, and public transportation leave a trail of information about where you are and what you are doing. Communication, banking and transportation services use interconnected networks and databases. This includes all licenses, certifications, education and health records, criminal records, telephone and utility services, credit bureaus, banks, landlords, mortgage companies, schools and hospitals, insurance companies, and government agencies.

Changing your identity means leaving behind every thing that makes you "you" in the legal sense and social sense.

Your children will also be affected:

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Changing Social Security Numbers

Carefully consider the long-lasting consequences of changing your identity before you start the process. Should you decide to take this step, you will have to go to a Social Security Administration (SSA) office to apply for a new number. You will have to prove that you are a victim of domestic violence and that you are in danger. They require documentation such as police reports, copies of protection orders, letters from shelters.

You may not have these documents because your abuser is a police officer. You might not have been able to access the normal avenues of help.

Ask a domestic violence advocate to go to the SSA office with you to help explain your circumstances. The SSA will review your application and inform you of their decision within several weeks. If your application is denied, you have a right to appeal the decision. The Social Security Administration has additional information about changing your social security number. Please be aware that online information may be outdated.

Do not be misled: your new social security number can be traced back to you. Credit bureaus, law enforcement agencies and other governmental agencies can match your new number with the old number. While the Social Security Administration is not to disclose information about your new number without your consent, it is required by law to disclose it to many agencies, including the IRS, Department of Justice, INS and the Selective Service System.

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