Monday, November 25, 2013

I want advice

Last night one of ya'll pointed out that it is difficult for disabled victims of violence to run. I went looking for advice for victims of domestic violence because I didn't have any, and I found out that's mostly because there isn't any. Not easily accessible via google. There's a few bits and pieces that I could find, but no good list of things you could do as a disabled person to make the abuse stop.

I don't think that it's a victim's responsibility to end abuse, but if an individual wants to try, they ought to know that there are options. I've spent today brainstorming and connecting those little bits and pieces into something I'd like to be usable.

I want you guys to tell me what I got wrong, what I missed, and what still needs to be addressed. I get that I'm an idiot, but right now I really don't give a shit how stupid or not stupid or whatever I am. I want a list of responsible actions a disabled person can take to protect themselves. I also want to know what an ally can do to protect the disabled, but I do NOT want to emphasize that someone should endure abuse, waiting for outside help, just because they're somehow impaired. EVERYONE should know what options they have, and how to use the existing systems to better themselves. Tell me I'm wrong, PLEASE tell me where I've fucked up, tell me what in the system needs to be changed, PLEASE, but if you know something about how disabled people can protect and defend themselves from abusive situations and cycles, please pass that information along. If there's a resource site I can look at, please link to it in the comment, if there actually is a list of advice and steps someone can take, please pass it on. I CANNOT FIND THIS INFORMATION ANYWHERE and unlike a lot of victims in crisis I DO know where to start looking.

THIS IS NOT FOR THE BLOG. Or, you know, not ONLY for the blog. This is something I want to pass on up to my stepmother and my father. They're both in positions of authority in hospitals and they are both deeply connected in the outreach systems in my community, both through their church and through their place of business. They're in a position to pass this information on to the programs they work with every day and they'll probably be just as pissed as I am that this has been overlooked. If it is this hard for me to find information beyond "Pay attention to what's happening and be ready to report it" (Which, btw, risks INCREASING danger to the abused person) then whatever you've got, blog-readers, is probably much more valuable than that lecture you're about to give me. GIVE ME THE LECTURE. I need to hear about ten million of them. But please pass any data you've got on.

This is what I've cobbled together so far.

-Figure out what your options are. Can you run? What are the obstacles to physically leaving the situation and can these circumstances be overcome? Even if you are bedridden, it may be possible to arrange an escape plan. Do NOT discount this option until you have completely exhausted every possibility. 

-Refuse to be isolated. Maintain contact with as many people outside the situation as possible. Get underhanded if you have to. The most important thing you can do is stay in touch with the people who are not harming you. If you’ve alienated anyone at the abuser’s request, get back in touch with them as soon as it is safe to do so and ask for their help. Trust me, 99% of the time these people have been waiting for you to reach out to them. It is entirely possible that they will have their own plan in place, ready to go. Because of the way our system is set up, no one can do anything to help you until you reach out. This is one reason why your abuser will do everything in their power to cut you off from the outside world. Do NOT allow this to happen. You will have to be careful about how you time your cry for help, but right now you can make sure that cry will be heard.

-Create alternate social media accounts. Disposable e-mail address, disposable facebook, disposable twitter. Memorize the passwords and account names and delete your browsing history frequently. If your abuser lives in the same home, set an alarm to “snooze”, turn the volume down if you can, and delete your history every time it goes off. ALWAYS erase your history when you are done using the internet. Use your disposable accounts to contact your local advocacy groups and support networks ONLY. Do not use these accounts for casual contacts with uninvolved people. NEVER stay signed in to these accounts. Sign out, delete your cookies, erase your history. The best thing you could do is have a second set of accounts that you use when you know your abuser is watching. When you've made your ally contacts for the day, sign into the dummy accounts and make sure your abuser sees them. They’ll spend their time monitoring those accounts instead of the accounts you’re using to contact your allies.

-Investigate your medical situation. Find out what “reasonable care” is for someone with your condition and, if it’s at all possible, begin planning for how to provide that care without your abuser. This will tell you what will and will not be possible for you, and again, make sure that you have exhausted every single option before you give up on the idea of escape. This will also enable you to make a case for how your abuser is harming you.

-Begin documenting EVERYTHING. If you have an ipad or other electronic item with a camera, take photographs. Document when you receive necessary food and medical care, how frequently, and how you are treated when this occurs. Time of contact, nature of contact, frequency of contact. DO NOT KEEP THIS WITH YOU. DO NOT KEEP THIS ANYWHERE YOUR ABUSER CAN FIND IT. It may mean e-mailing yourself these records. Do it. If the abuse is verbal, try to obtain a recording device (your cell phone might work, your computer or ipad could be adapted to work) so that you have documented what they are saying. Share this documentation ONLY with people who won’t bring it up with your abuser until after your safety has been secured. YOU DO NOT WANT THE ABUSER TO KNOW YOU ARE DOING THIS.

-Find out what your legal circumstances are. Who is your legal guardian, who has your power of attorney, and how many legal ties stand between you and your abuser? Will it be possible for you or someone outside the situation to sever those ties? 

-You will need to find someone you can trust outside of the situation who can sit on your circumstances long enough for the two of you to formulate a plan. This is your primary ally. Even if you are not disabled you ought to have a primary outside contact to help arrange things when the abuser is watching. Your ally will have to be someone you can trust completely with everything from money to transportation to medical assistance, who absolutely, positively, comprehensively WILL NOT contact your abuser. Be VERY careful in choosing this person. Being with an abuser warps your perception of reality and people, and it is entirely possible for you to choose another abuser. Another thing to consider is that Social workers, councelors, doctors, nurses and police officers are all REQUIRED to report abuse to Adult Protective Services within twenty-four hours of receiving that information, and APS is REQUIRED to act on those reports within forty-eight hours of receiving them. The good news is that means by law the people taking care of you HAVE to report abuse regardless of if they believe you. The bad news is that means your abuser can be notified of your accusations within three days of you reporting your abuse. If your abuser is made aware of an investigation and they are NOT removed from their position as caregiver, you will be in massively increased danger of abuse and retaliation. Unless it is an emergency, it may be in your best interest to avoid reporting your abuse until you have a plan to either escape the situation, or defuse your abuser’s attempts at retaliation. Do your best to avoid a confrontation until your safety and well being are secured.

-If your abuser is your primary caregiver, try to set up your ally as their alternate and suggest that your abuser take breaks from providing care. This will give you the opportunity to sign paperwork, make telephone calls, document conditions around the household, and set up alternate methods of care without their presence. If running is an option, this will also lay the groundwork for your chance to leave. This may not work, but it’s worth a shot.

-Get a PO box your abuser does not know about. You may have to get your ally to set this up and to handle mail deliveries. This will allow you to obtain things to assist in both your efforts to document the abuse, assist your medical situation, and to facilitate any possible escape plan. It is also very important in the case of an escape attempt that your "previous address" NOT be the mailing address your abuser has access to. When you file a change of address form, a notice is sent to your previous address. If you have an established PO box that notification will go there, and not directly to your abuser.

-Set up alternate methods of funding and investigate fundraising. You may need a lawyer. You will most likely need money to set up medical care on your own. You may need to procure alternate housing once your abuser is out of the picture. A new bank account would be ideal. If that is not possible, investigate a pre-paid credit card that allows direct deposit transfers. Allow your ally to set these up ONLY if you trust them with your money. It’s best if you keep these under your name and under your control. Once you have a place to put your money, look into ways to raise money on your own. Etsy. Ebay. Donations from interested parties. I would recommend being VERY wary of using crowdfunding resources unless you can absolutely trust your ally, because crowdfunding requires proof of address and a time commitment that you will not be able to provide simply because your abuser will be watching. The absolute last thing you want your abuser to see are your fundraising attempts, especially if you manage to raise a large dollar amount. Your ally would have to manage this. But try everything, no matter how farfetched it sounds. The more money you have at your disposal, the more options you have when securing your safety.

-If phones are an option for you, Get a disposable cell phone and several SIM cards that will fit that model phone. You may want to have your ally keep a second phone of the same model. SIM cards retain the cell’s number and call history, and replacing the SIM card in your phone gives you a new number and a new call history. It’ll be cheap, and if your abuser becomes suspicious and begins trying to restrict your access to communications, you’ll have a backup. Learn how to remove and replace SIM cards on your own and keep an UNUSED card in the phone when you are not actively communicating with allies. Hide the SIM card you use to contact allies someplace very secure where your abuser is very unlikely to find it. This way, if your abuser finds the phone and checks your call history it will be blank. If they confiscate the phone, you’ll still have all your contact numbers on the SIM card and your primary ally may be able to get you the backup phone. If not, you can give the contact SIM card to your primary ally and they will be able to notify authorities and keep your other allies informed.

-Using your new phone and dummy accounts ONLY, acquire an advocate well-versed in your disability. Inform them of your situation and provide them with the documentation you’ve been keeping. Reguardless of what you do next—escape or confrontation—have this advocate with you at all times during the final stages. But be extraordinarily careful in how you communicate with the advocate. Your abuser will absolutely attempt to cut you off from this person. Do not allow them to know your advocate exists until it is too late for them to isolate you.

-Stockpile any and all medications, necessary equipment and supplies you will need. Ideally, have what you would need for two to three days. This is something you will have to give your primary ally, as it is too dangerous to keep this around your house. If your abuser finds it, it's a red flag that you intend to leave and/or get rid of them. EVEN IF YOU PLAN TO STAY AT THAT LOCATION, you need to have an emergency supply of necessities your abuser cannot access.It's entirely possible for them to sabotage your medications or medical equipment on their way out, or to hide something you need to force you to back down and withdraw your accusation. If it is possible for you to get a spare to your ally, do it.

-The ideal way to confront an abuser is to remove yourself from the situation and never talk to them again. This may not be possible for you, but you may be underestimating your ability to create your own escape. If you are being abused in an institution, you may be able to set up a transfer to a different facility, especially if you’ve managed to obtain an outside ally and funding your abuser does not have access to. If you are being abused in the home, you may be able to set up an escape plan with your ally, especially if you’ve arranged for your abuser to have a day off outside of the home. If you can be driven to and from doctor’s appointments, you can be driven away from the abuse. If you’ve arranged for your primary ally to be your abuser’s alternate caregiver, you can arrange for an outing with your ally—doctor’s appointment, a trip to the hairdresser—that will allow you to be loaded into transportation without the abuser’s suspicion. You could also arrange for your ally to meet you at a doctor’s appointment and leave when your abuser is not watching--this would also be the time to notify your doctor about the abuse. Alternatively, arrange for your abuser to leave the home for whatever reason, and vacate the home as soon as your abuser is no longer present. If you are bedridden, or you require a lot of medical equipment, arrange for an ambulance to take you to a secure facility. As soon as you are out of the abuser's reach, IMMEDIATELY contact the police, Adult Protection Services, and any social workers or caseworkers you have and notify them that you were being abused and that you have removed yourself from the abusive situation. 

-If escape is not possible, then you have to remove the abuser. If you are in an institution, wait until the person abusing you is gone for a prolonged period of time—a weekend, a vacation, something that will keep them out of the building and away from you long enough for steps to be taken. Notify any allies you have and, if possible, get them in the room. Once you’ve ensured that you are not alone, notify the abuser’s supervisor, the social workers in the building and the licensing board monitoring the facility that abuse is occurring and provide the documentation you’ve been keeping. Instruct your allies to refuse to leave you alone until the issue with the abuser has been resolved. DO NOT COMMUNICATE WITH THE ABUSER OR ANYONE DEFENDING THEM. If the facility calls the police to remove your allies, inform the police that you are being abused, you do not feel safe without the presence of your allies, and you would like this situation to be resolved. Show the police your documentation. Make absolutely sure you contact the licensing board monitoring the both the facility and the abuser. If the licensing boards are aware that abuse is occurring, the facility has to address those accusations and they CANNOT retaliate against you. If a nursing board or medical board are notified that a nurse or doctor is abusing a patient, by law they HAVE to investigate that accusation and there is a very good chance that board will pull the abuser's license. And again: If it is at all possible, transfer out of the facility

-if the abuse is occurring in a home situation, when you are ready to move contact social services, Adult Protective Services, any caseworkers that might be working with you, anyone supervising your abuser (And if they're a doctor, an LPN or a RN, contact the licensing board) and the police. If at all possible, have your allies meet with the police prior to any confrontation, provide them with the documentation, and request to have the police meet them at the home during the confrontation. Have your advocate accompany them, if they are not the same person, so that the advocate can explain the nature of your disability and prepare the authorities for any excuses your abuser may provide. And above all else, make ABSOLUTELY SURE that you are not alone when you confront your abuser, and that you are not left alone after. Do whatever it takes to get the abuser off the property.

-Your abuser may hold legal authority over you. You have the right to revoke power of attorney. Do it. If your abuser holds legal guardianship, have your ally seek an emergency custody hearing to get a court-appointed guardian immediately prior to any attempts to remove either yourself or the abuser from the situation, and do not make your move until guardianship has been established with someone you can trust. 

-If you can't run, You’ll be staying at the same property for the time being. This is incredibly dangerous. Your abuser knows where you are and will make attempts to get back into your life and/or retaliate. Because he knows the property, there is a good chance he can get close enough to hurt you. THE BEST THING YOU CAN DO IS HAVE YOUR ABUSER IN JAIL AS LONG AS YOU POSSIBLY CAN. That won’t last, so you’ll have to take steps to protect yourself short-term and long term. Deny them access to the property. Either you or your ally should learn how to change locks (it’s easier than you think) and purchase new lock kits for every entrance. Be ready to change the locks immediately after your abuser vacates the property. Do not go to bed until every door on the property is rekeyed, including “Inside” doors that connect your house to a shed or garage. If you can't rekey it, chain it shut and put a padlock on it. Even if your abuser was not provided with a key to your house, they probably have one now. If you can’t afford new lock kits, switch the locks on your house with the locks on your ally’s house. Make sure that every door and window is secured. For the first week or two, do not stay at the property alone and DO NOT leave the property vacant for any length of time AT ALL, especially not if your abuser is still attempting contact. You abuser may call a locksmith and have the doors rekeyed to regain access, so it is important that either you or someone you trust be there to stop this from happening. Get the abuser’s name off bank accounts, utility bills, credit cards, and emergency contact sheets. Continue to document all contact with the abuser but do not, under any circumstances, communicate. Don’t answer their phone calls. Don’t answer the door. Don’t even open unwanted texts or e-mails. Document the contact, retain the (unread) text or e-mail, and then keep going.

-You may need to plan to move. Your abuser knows that property intimately, they know where you are as long as you stay there, and they’ll know how to get to you. If your abuser makes no attempt to contact you during the first month, and you have evidence they’ve moved on, it’s probably safe to stay. If your abuser has made repeated attempts to get back into your home and your life, or they are still calling you and making other attempts to contact you, or if you have seen them in the neighborhood, I highly recommend you begin the process of finding a new home and moving there. And again, DO NOT use your current address for anything. Instead, use your P.O. box as your primary mailing address. When you get to the new property, file change of address with the PO box as the previous address. Otherwise, notification of the new address will be sent to the current address, and if your abuser has any access to that address’s mail they will know where you are now.

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