Author Archives: Malore Dusenbery

Connecting to a Lifeline: Technology and Survivor Safety

Access to technology like phones and the internet are critical for domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking survivors’ safety. Cell phones allow survivors to call law enforcement or an ambulance to the scene of a crime, which may stop that violent incident and start the path to recovery. They allow survivors to stay in contact with the criminal justice system, whether to cooperate with a prosecution, communicate about upcoming hearings or receive notification about an offender’s release. In addition, phones and the internet are primary methods for survivors to research and contact appropriate services in their community, including health care, child care, shelters, rape crisis hotlines and other survivor services that are specific to their unique needs like languages or disabilities. If survivors still live with an abuser or had to relocate because of violence, this technology may be even more necessary to stay connected to these vital sources of information and economic justice.

Technology is also essential to achieving economic security, which is directly linked to survivor safety and independence. Not only is reliable internet needed for job searching, it is also increasingly necessary to apply for such opportunities. Currently over 80% of job positions with Fortune 500 companies must be applied for online and over 60% of American workers use the internet for their job duties. Information and applications for training and education programs, benefit programs and other financial services are often only accessible online as well. Furthermore, one study estimated that the typical American consumer saves $8,800 a year by accessing bargains and comparison shopping on the internet.

Unfortunately, low-income survivors may not be able to afford this technology. They may have lost their jobs due to an abuser’s interference or they may be facing high health care, housing, childcare or other costs stemming from violence. An abuser may have destroyed previous cell phones or computers as a means of control and intimidation and the cost of replacement can be prohibitive, especially to replace a phone out of contract. Survivors who leave an abusive partner may be struggling to make ends meet on their own while no longer benefiting from the economies of scale that couples experience.

For these reasons, WOW recognizes the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for taking steps this week to expand their valuable Lifeline program, which is currently helping over 12 million low-income American households pay their landline or cell phone bills. One of the new proposals before the FCC would allow broadband internet to also be subsidized for participants. To qualify, household income must be at or below 135% of the federal poverty line or they must take part in a federal assistance program such as Medicaid, TANF or SNAP. A preliminary vote  is anticipated in mid-June with a final vote possible by the end of the year.

Survivors and service providers may also benefit from programs such as Verizon’s Hopeline, which collects cell phones and accessories and donates them refurbished to domestic violence organizations for survivors. However, although technology may be essential for survivors to access services and achieve independence, it can also be used as a tool by abusers to control, harass and stalk survivors. Advocates and survivors should be aware of resources such as the Stalking Resource Center’s Use of Technology to Stalk website and course and NNEDV’s Technology Safety Plan Guide to help protect survivors against abuser manipulation of these tools. 


Improving Women’s Health Requires Fully Addressing Violence

The first thing most people think of when asked about the economic cost of abuse is health care. This is not surprising considering the enduring stereotypes – the image of a domestic violence victim with a black eye and broken arm or the rape victim going to the ER after being attacked by a stranger. This immediate focus on health care costs is also not without good reason: intimate partner violence (IPV) results in two million injuries for US women every year and medical costs ranging from $2.3 billion to $7 billion within one year of violence. Consequently, women experiencing physical abuse faced health care costs 42% higher than non-abused women.

It is essential that women receive affordable, quality treatment for these health costs so that they may remain safe and economically secure, which means looking beyond the stereotypes to address every aspect of health-related impacts, including the following.

  • Mental health care: Whether survivors experience depression, anxiety or PTSD, mental health needs can be just as costly and impactful as more visible physical needs. They may also affect survivors’ ability to maintain their jobs and care for themselves or their families.
  • Long-term health care: Health care costs continue to be 19% higher for survivors than for non-abused women even five or more years after physical violence. Mental health needs, especially for sexual assault survivors, may also take years to appear, long after survivors are eligible for crime victim compensation (CVC) or other financial assistance. In addition, trauma from domestic and sexual violence often leads survivors to engage in other risky behaviors, such as abusing drugs or alcohol and unsafe sex, with far-reaching consequences on their health.
  • Access to health insurance: In order for survivors to weather the added costs of physical and mental health care without falling into dangerous economic insecurity, they must have adequate health insurance. However, survivors may receive insurance through their abusive partner, which complicates their decisions to leave or seek treatments that their abuser could find out about. Survivors with employment-based insurance may be at risk of losing it if their jobs are in jeopardy from an abuser targeting them at work. Survivors may also be suffering abuse or harassment at the workplace in order to keep their jobs and health insurance.

This week is National Women’s Health Week and WOW is thrilled that “Talk to my doctor about any domestic or interpersonal violence” is a recommendation for every age and that mental health is a priority. Considering the immense impact of violence on health, it is critical that doctors have the training to respond to domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking. Rather than checking off whether they asked about domestic violence, they should be able to recognize the signs of each form of violence and take appropriate action, such as by directing survivors to mental health professionals and community resources. Adequate and supportive policies are also needed at every level. Health care professionals, direct service providers and policymakers should account for the importance of health insurance for survivors’ economic security and the added complications that survivors may face in acquiring or accessing it. In addition, policies should address the long-term and diverse health impacts of violence. For example, survivors would benefit from having access to CVC funds long after the crime itself and insurance coverage for contraception or STI treatment that may be needed following reproductive coercion or sexual assault.

National Women’s Health Week is a good start towards a great mission, but until the proper training, infrastructure and policies are in place, a simple annual check-up is not going to significantly address the health-related consequences of violence.



A Focus on Student Impacts During Stalking Awareness Month

January marks a time to acknowledge and renew the fight to reduce the dangerous realities of stalking. With the spring 2015 semester underway, college students between the ages of 18 and 24 in particular are at a heightened risk of being stalked. In just one six to nine month period, 13% of college women were stalked. Although many young people make light of stalking, such as by saying that they “Facebook stalked” someone, stalking is a serious crime that can psychologically and emotionally damage a victim and reduce their sense of safety. According to the Stalking Resource Center, 46% of stalking victims fear not knowing what will happen next; while 29% of stalking victims fear the stalking will never stop. It can also turn physically violent—89% of femicide victims who had been physically assaulted had also been stalked in the 12 months before their murder. In addition, most stalking victims know their stalker. On college campuses, 80% of victims knew their stalker, many of which were current or former intimate partners.

As technology has evolved, so has stalking: 78% of stalkers use more than one method to track their victims. Means of approach can include but are not limited to mobile phones (text messages and phone calls), computers (instant messaging, emails and monitoring internet histories), social media accounts such as Twitter and Facebook, GPS, as well as modes of public transportation and physically following the victim. Advanced technology makes it more convenient for perpetrators to track or contact their victims more often. In fact, two thirds of stalkers pursue their victims at least once per week, many daily. Criminal justice and direct service professionals can learn more about the use of technology to stalk through the Stalking Resource Center’s online course.

Stalking can also have an economic impact on victims, whether they are in school or the workforce. Stalking can cause students to miss classes or even drop out of school to avoid the stalker. One in eight employed stalking victims will lose time from work as a direct result of their victimization, more than half of which lose five days of work or more. Missing days of work as well as the increased loss of productivity at work could lead to lost employment opportunities such as promotions or obtaining a better job and even termination. In addition to education or employment disruption, stalking can pose other economic hardships on victims. Significant property damage and costs associated with safety, such as alarm systems, changing residences, legal fees, as well as health and mental treatment are just some of the costs paid by victims.

To learn more about the economic impact of stalking on college students and potential legal remedies, see our latest ESS Project newsletter. For additional information on stalking and materials related to National Stalking Awareness Month, visit


On the Hill: End of the Shutdown

After 16 days with the federal government in a partial shutdown and just one day before the US reached its borrowing limit, leaders in Congress were able to pass an agreement early Thursday morning to reopen the government and lift the debt ceiling. Following a series of starts and stops between negotiators from both parties, the Senate approved the measure 81-18 and the House followed with a vote of 285-144 to send the bill to the president. Forged by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), the deal funds the federal government at fiscal year 2013 post-sequestration spending levels through January 15, 2014, and suspends the nation’s debt ceiling until February 7, 2014. The agreement also commits the House and Senate to form a conference committee to resolve differences between the respective chambers’ fiscal year 2014 budgets, and strengthens income-related eligibility verification for Americans receiving subsidies under the Affordable Care Act.  

The members of the newly formed bicameral Budget conference committee are tasked with delivering by December 13, 2013 a framework for a tax overhaul and an alternative to new sequester cuts set to take effect January 15, 2014. Deficit-cutting measures are also a priority, with Republicans eyeing  cuts to entitlement programs while Democrats are seeking new tax revenues. In addition to the chairmen of the House and Senate budget committees — Rep. Paul D. Ryan (R-WI) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) — the 29-member panel includes party leaders, veteran negotiators and experts on the budget, taxes and appropriations.

Differences between budgets passed by the House and Senate earlier this year, however, remain stark. The first task of the committee will be to reach an agreement on a top line spending level to use for making appropriations— the $986 billion specified in the fiscal deal, the $967 billion that reflects the Budget Control Act level for fiscal 2014, or the $1.058 trillion proposed by the Senate in its budget resolution. Rep. Ryan and most House Republicans remain adamantly opposed to any tax increases, arguing that the administration got all the revenue the GOP will concede in January’s fiscal cliff deal. Murray and most Democrats insist that any replacement of budget cuts under sequester or long-term deficit reduction plan needs to contain a mix of new revenue and spending cuts.

Despite being the first day of the government shutdown, October 1st also marked the unveiling of the Affordable Care Act’s online insurance exchanges. Though largely overshadowed by the drama of the government shutdown, the roll-out of the insurance exchanges has been rife with technical issues, leaving millions who attempted to log into the federal exchange unable to gain access to the online system. Some of the individual state exchanges have had greater success, with a combined 150,000 people having turned in applications for health coverage in the separate, state-run marketplaces. Administration officials have said there is plenty of time to resolve problems with the federal exchanges before the mid-December deadline to sign up for coverage that begins Jan. 1 and the March 31 deadline for coverage that starts later. A round-the-clock effort has been under way to address the technical difficulties, though some fear that the botched roll-out of the federal exchange could undermine the long term success of the law.

With the federal government open again and the debt ceiling temporarily suspended, Washington’s problems are, at least for the moment, on hold. Challenges lie ahead, however, with the newly formed budget conference committee on a tight deadline to reach what will be a difficult consensus on funding levels for the coming year, and for the Administration facing continued obstacles in implementing the Affordable Care Act.

The House of Representatives will be in session next week; the Senate will be in recess.


485 Days and Counting

The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) is crucial to ensuring safety for survivors of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking by providing necessary resources to direct service providers, law enforcement agencies, and prosecutors. Since 1994, VAWA has enabled organizations in each of these sectors to work together and create a coordinated response, resulting in the foundations of increased safety for survivors. Unfortunately, Congress allowed VAWA to expire in September 2011 and, despite an advocate-backed 2012 reauthorization that passed with huge bipartisan support in the Senate, the members of the 112 Congress were not able to reach a consensus before the term ended.

The main areas of contention in 2012 were new provisions that planned to improve services to LGBTQ survivors, expand protections to Native victims and increase the number of available U-visas. Currently, the number of U-visas allotted by VAWA is capped at 10,000 per year. U-visas help to protect immigrant survivors of violence by providing legal status, temporary work authorization and protection against deportation for survivors who cooperate with police. In one study, 65% of immigrants reported being threatened with deportation by their abuser. Many abusers also refuse to file proper immigration paperwork: 72% of Latinas reported spouses that failed to file petitions though over half qualified. For immigrant survivors who are isolated and dependent on the abuser both economically and legally, these protections can keep them from having to choose between being able to work or receive services and escaping an abusive relationship, making them vastly safer and more economically secure.

On January 22nd, the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act (S. 47) was reintroduced by Senators Mike Crapo (R-ID) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT). The same day, Representative Gwen Moore (WI-4) introduced an identical companion bill in the House of Representatives (H.R. 11). The Senate and House bills currently have 32 and 158 cosponsors respectively and both are awaiting further action. While extremely similar to Senate bill S. 1925 passed last year, the updated version of VAWA  no longer contains the provision that increase the allotted annual number of U-visas to 15,000 using unissued visas from the previous years. It also eliminates the previously proposed new visa category that came with a $30 fee. The House had objected to it on the procedural grounds that, under the Constitution, revenue-raising bills may only begin in the House. However, Senator Leahy has stated that he will strive to ensure that an increase in U-visas will be included in immigration reform legislation, so that all survivors of violence will be protected.


Safety First: Lessons from India for Survivor Economic Security

Like many advocates for the safety and security of survivors, I have my hands full with a stalled VAWA, seemingly unending fiscal showdowns, and the proper implementation of domestic policies to support economic security. However, sometimes an event is so alarming and horrifying that it causes advocates worldwide to take pause and reflect. The recent gang rape of a young female medical student on a bus in Delhi, India is one suchevent. The deadly attack by six men has galvanized urban centers in India, creating massive protests and calls for reform. India is considered the most dangerous country for women, with statistics showing that a woman is raped every 14 hours in Delhi and that reported rapes increased nationally by 25% between 2006 and 2011.

A major component of the failure to keep women safe is the inadequate laws and actions of the justice system. For example, a teenager in Punjab recently committed suicide following a reported gang rape that law enforcement delayed investigating, supposedly even harassed the victim themselves in the process. This problem reiterates what we know and are fighting to change with our work on the Economic Security for Survivors (ESS) project: there can be no restoration of survivors if police do not take each crime seriously; there can be no justice, economic or otherwise, if prosecutors do not charge the right crimes; there can be no perpetrator accountability if the courts do not hear the cases.


Thanks Largely to the public outcry, India is engaging in talks of culture change and justice system reform, both of which are equally needed. Officials created new fast-track courts to handle this case and other crimes against women. They opened a national telephone helpline for women. Task forces are being created to monitor women’s safety in New Delhi and to evaluate how rape cases are handled in general to propose changes to national rape laws.

I sincerely hope that they succeed in meaningfully improving their system to protect women from such brutal attacks in the future and I wish them the best of luck in their efforts. We will continue in our own efforts to do the same. This incident is a tragic reminder to us all that safety and economic security must go hand in hand. After all, there can be no economic security if one cannot work, live, buy groceries or take affordable transportation without fear of harm. There can be no economic security if one cannot work because of harassment that would continue unhindered even if reported. What message are we sending to women around the world if the response to their increased achievements in education and the economy is increased violence against them?  Without these basic protections from harm, there cannot be the equality of opportunity or basic women’s empowerment towards which we are all working.


In Recognition of Domestic Violence Awareness Month

Domestic Violence Awareness Month (DVAM), celebrated each October, was created to raise awareness about the insidious nature of and extent of harm caused by domestic violence. DVAM also serves to rally communities and connect those working with survivors. To a large extent, it has proved successful. Communities across the country honor victims, service providers, and responding officers with rallies, fundraisers and campaigns. Advocates come together to share success and frustrations, fortifying their resolve to keep fighting for survivors. However, while there has been great publicity around tragic fatality statistics, WOW believes the financial element of abuse and recovery still remains unaddressed.

We all play an important role in shedding greater light on the tragic connection between economic and financial security and safety. We need your help to spread the word and act to improve the economic security of the survivors you interact with everyday.  Social media can be used to post facts, organize events and reach out to elected officials. Direct service providers can take this opportunity to implement assessment and employment strategies found in the Getting Started Handbook. Advocates and justice system actors alike can urge the necessary policy changes to protect survivors as seen in the STOP Guide and the Justice System Policy Briefs. Employers can put up information on domestic violence and create a workplace policy ( to address the issue and keep survivors and other staff safe. Whatever your approach, honor DVAM by recognizing the importance of economic security in the well-being of survivors.


In Honor of Sexual Assault Awareness Month: The Intersection of Violence and Security

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) in the US, which highlights that someone is assaulted every 2 minutes, 80% of victims are under the age of 30 and 54% of assaults go unreported. In recognition of this alarming public safety problem, it is important to take stock of the individual and societal costs. Sexual violence has direct, life-long implications for employment, housing, education and finances across all kinds of assault and for all types of victims and their families.

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Violence Against Women in the Military

Women who are working hard to keep our country safe are being victimized at alarming rates. The Department of Defense estimated that 19,000 service members were raped or assaulted in 2009. Furthermore, the Pentagon detailed a 58.5 percent increase in reported sexual assaults at service academies in 2011. While we commend the brave women who are taking a stand in military schools and the active ranks, too few are coming forward: according to the DOD only 13.5 percent of assaults were reported. However, this tragic epidemic is gaining greater and greater attention. For example, US Representative Jackie Speier (D-CA) recently introduced H.R. 3435, the Sexual Assault Training Oversight and Prevention Act (STOP Act), to combat sexual violence in the military by placing victim care in the hands of an independent oversight group instead of the normal military chain of command. Continue reading