When Sonya Passi began researching the challenges facing survivors of domestic violence, she found a concerning disparity: Survivors often leave their abusers with no cash, credit cards, or bank accounts in their name, but there are few resources available to them to help pave the way for longterm financial stability.
"This is not for a lack of good intention, but it's a huge problem that's not nearly funded as much as it should be," Passi, the founder and CEO of FreeFrom, a startup whose goal is to financially empower survivors, told Refinery29. "All the money is going to emergency services such as welfare and shelters."
Although there are ways for survivors to get compensation for medical bills and property costs, Passi says the vast majority of survivors don't know these are options or how to access them. This lack of information was the basis for a new online tool FreeFrom is rolling out today.
The self-help compensation tool, which the company is launching in California, asks survivors to identify where they fall on a series of six considerations — time, cost, award, likelihood, safety, and story — to help them determine their "compensation type." If you pick "time," for example, survivors are then asked to choose from one of three options: "I don't have a lot of time to spare pursuing compensation and want to know with some certainty I'll receive a little money"; "I don't have a lot of time to spare pursuing compensation and am willing to take a risk if I can get something"; "I know the process might take over a year but want to know with some certainty I'll receive enough money to cover my losses."
The entire process takes about five minutes, and at the end, survivors find out their "compensation mindset," a classification that is intended to help them figure out what their priorities are and what their compensation options look like in their state. In California, for example, there are four avenues for getting money to cover costs: Victims of Crime funding, tort litigation, criminal restitution, and small claims court. For each option, FreeFrom describes the amount of time it will take before victims might see the funds, as well as the cost and likelihood of getting that type of funding. There is also a brief how-to guiding survivors through filing a claim.
FreeFrom aims to make the tool available for survivors in all 50 states by the end of 2018, and Passi hopes to provide additional educational assets, such as information about how to avoid getting tripped up when filling out claims forms, in future iterations.
The economic impact of domestic violence should not be underestimated: According to America's National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, up to 60% of survivors lose their jobs and the cost of intimate partner violence exceeds $8.3 billion every year. The federal funding that provides emergency services may offer a short-term solution, but not a sustainable one. For that, Passi says, financial stability is critical.
"We're trying to transform the movement and move it past emergency services," she told Refinery29. "If survivors are financially secure, first, they can afford to leave and find safety. Then they can do healing work that will break the intergenerational cycle of abuse."
If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, please call the National Domestic Violence Helpline on 0808 2000 247.