We should all be concerned about the ongoing epidemic of intimate partner violence. But the March 9 edition of the cheeky Village Voice casts a spotlight on the sordid under-belly to the abuse issue – the problem of scammers who finagle besieged public benefit programs by making a false accusation of partner violence.
The cover story, Ten Worst Tenants by Elizabeth Dwoskin, calls out the hoarders and fraudsters who exasperate, deceive, and torment other tenants and honest-dealing landlords. And fourth on her list are the Domestic-Violence Fakers.
Dwoskin first introduces us to Latonya Malone, 26, who earns $35,000 working as a security guard in Manhattan. Ms. Malone wanted to move into nicer digs – but for a person of her means, these could only be had by qualifying under the HUD Section 8 housing voucher program.
So Malone seized on a bright idea: Claim to be a victim of domestic violence, which would move her to the front of the line. So she got a bogus restraining order that claimed a fictitious “John Brown” had beaten her.
Last October Malone was charged with grand larceny for allegedly stealing government subsidies valued at $14,000. The case is now pending.
Reporter Dwoskin then recounts the story of Chevelle Richardson who filled out a fabricated incident report for daughter Chandera. Then she forged a letter from the Safe Horizon abuse shelter.
Chevelle, Chandera, and four other women were arrested last year for falsely claiming to be victims of domestic violence.
Rose Gill Hearn, commissioner of the NYC Department of Investigation, finds these cases to be repugnant. “I mean, there are real victims of domestic violence out there,” she exclaims.
It’s not hard to figure out why DV fakers have become a problem — and the scent of the trail leads all the way to our nation’s capitol.
On January 5, 2006, President George Bush signed into law the Violence Against Women Act. The law, commonly known as VAWA, contains a provision that domestic violence does not qualify as a serious or repeated violation of a rental lease, and thus does not constitute good cause to terminate the victim’s tenancy rights.
The provision makes perfect sense – after all, who would ever want to see a victim of battering turned out to the streets?
But exactly what is “domestic violence”? Under VAWA, partner violence is viewed in vague terms, including the use of tactics designed to “gain or maintain power and control.”
No one exactly knows what “power and control” means, so agencies resort to broad criteria that qualify almost everyone. For example in many states, applicants for the welfare Family Violence Option are asked if they have been subjected to “mind games” or have ever felt “emotionally abused.”
Other agencies employ similarly broad criteria. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control provides these examples of partner abuse:
1. “getting annoyed if the victim disagrees”
2. “withholding information from the victim”
3. “disregarding what the victim wants.”
Getting annoyed…ignoring what a person wants…that’s domestic violence?
So when the man or woman applies for Section 8 housing, the person only needs to fill out form HUD-91066, Certification of Domestic Violence, Dating Violence, or Stalking. The government form instructs the applicant, “In your own words, describe the incident.” No police records, photographs, medical documents, or eyewitness accounts are required.
No surprise, a tsunami of would-be “victims” of partner violence is swamping besieged welfare programs.
And the real victims are finding it difficult to get help. In some parts of the country, abuse shelters report a 3-month waiting list. That’s because the facilities are filled with homeless persons claiming to be victims of abusive “mind control” tactics.
The true victims are furious, of course. An advocacy group known as Survivors in Action has started a petition demanding that domestic violence groups be held “accountable for refusing victims the resources and services they desperately need.” To date, over 11,000 male and female victims have signed on: http://apps.facebook.com/causes/petitions/201?m=a4681d42
If resources were ever-flowing, we might be able to dismiss the Domestic Violence Fakers as a pesky distraction. But in an era of shrinking budgets, turning a blind eye to this practice is tantamount to a betrayal of the truly vulnerable.
And for the persons who are falsely accused — usually men — we are doing them a grave disservice as well.