fair housing for survivors act

OSE Supports the Fair Housing for Survivors Act of 2023

Operation Safe Escape applauds and supports the Fair Housing for Survivors Act of 2023, a bill introduced in the US House of Representatives earlier this year. This important piece of legislation aims to provide protection for survivors of domestic violence, sexual violence, and sex trafficking under the Fair Housing Act. If passed, the bill would include survivors of domestic violence, sexual violence, and sex trafficking to the list of classes protected under the existing Fair Housing Act, helping to protect survivors from discrimination or eviction for crimes committed against them.

The statistics are shocking and underscore the importance of this landmark legislation. Research indicates that up to 57% of homeless women, many with children, report that domestic violence was the immediate cause of their homelessness. 84% of survivors in domestic violence shelters report that they need help finding affordable permanent housing, with more than half not receiving the assistance they need. And survivors who become homeless as a result of abuse or assault are at a significantly higher risk of other forms of victimization.

Sadly, the majority of survivors who experience sexual assault or abuse in their home do not immediately relocate to a safer environment because they lack funds or are not aware of the resources available to them. In a press release announcing the legislation, Congresswoman Wasserman Schultz said, “for far too long, survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, and human trafficking have been forced to choose between confinement with their abusers or homelessness.” The time to act, clearly, is now.

The bipartisan bill has 53 cosponsors, which you can view here. Don’t see your representative on the list? Click “Contact Your Member” on this page and encourage them to support H.R. 2918, the Fair Housing for Survivors Act of 2023.

Someone you know is struggling today. Celebrate Be an Angel Day, be an angel in their life by helping them recover from abuse.

National Be an Angel Day is TODAY!!!!!!

Today is the 29th annual “National Be an Angel Day.” This is a day when we not only remember the people that made a difference in our own lives, but also a day where we reflect on the many ways we can help others around us. Someone you know is struggling today; how can you help?

You can make a difference in the life of a survivor. It starts with listening.


How do you recognize domestic violence?

Abusers will generally put on a sort of “mask” in public, reserving the most obvious forms of abuse for in private. This is itself a form of manipulation, so it’s important to recognize the signs of abuse that might not be so obvious:

  • Their partner insults them in front of others, or even in public
  • They are constantly worried about upsetting their partner or making them angry
  • They keep making excuses about their partner’s behavior or minimize their comments
  • Their partner appears to be jealous and possessive, or even controls who they’re able to associate with
  • The relationship seems to be moving very quickly, and they’re pressured to make commitments early on in the relationship
  • You notice unexplained marks or injuries, such as bruises or cuts
  • They stop spending time with friends and family, or significantly reducing the time they spend with friends and family without a clear reason
  • They seem depressed or anxious, or demonstrate other personality changes
  • They have unexplained financial problems, often a symptom of financial abuse

Don’t wait for someone close to you to tell you what’s going on. If you see something concerning, say something!


Teen Dating Violence and Abuse

Teenage relationships can often be more volatile than adult ones. It’s just as important to share information and resources with teens, especially if you have reason to suspect the relationship is abusive in any way. Some signs of abuse include:

  • Changes in behavior, such as unexplained moodiness, temper, depression, or withdrawing from friend or family groups
  • Pressure to take the relationship “to the next level,” either physically or with long-term commitments
  • Showing up unannounced and uninvited
  • The relationship is extremely volatile; they’re constantly fighting or breaking up and getting back together. The cycle is often restarted with a grand gesture by the partner, which may include expensive gifts or frequent efforts to contact them
  • New signs of body or appearance insecurity
  • The partner starts speaking for the teen, especially when discussing plans or opinions
  • They’re monitoring the teen’s devices, tracking their location, and otherwise invading their privacy
  • They are pressured to respond to text messages or other contact immediately, and become distressed when they’re not able to receive and respond to messages quickly
  • Their possessions get vandalized or destroyed by their partner
  • Unexplained or hidden injuries


What can I do?

If you know or suspect that someone close to you is in an abusive relationship, taking the next step can be hard and you may even be afraid of offending someone you care about. It’s always okay to share your concerns, and it might even save their life.

  • Tell them you’re concerned about their safety, and what specifically worries you. This can help them see that the behaviors aren’t okay and that people care
  • Be specific with how you want to help, whether you can offer resources, space, comfort, childcare, or anything else
  • Encourage them to talk to someone that can help, such as the National Domestic Violence Hotline, Operation Safe Escape, a local agency, etc
  • Encourage them to do things they used to enjoy but may have stopped doing
  • Give them your attention. Find a time when you won’t be distracted while talking
  • Don’t try to force them to do anything; it can be hard, but they might not be ready or able to make a change at that time. Let them know you’ll be there for them when they are. Also, don’t try to shame or blame them for anything that happened
  • Let them know you’ll always be there for them, whether they stay or are ready to leave



Make a safety plan. Note: when making a safety plan, which may include storing important documents or clothing, be careful not to give clues to the abuser. If they would notice important documents missing or see a “go bag” hidden in the home, this can escalate the abuser

The National Domestic Violence Hotline. The Hotline offers anonymous chat, text, and other resources

The Coalition Against Stalkerware. Not only does the Coalition do great work in combating stalkerware apps and tools, take a look at the members for even more resources

Elon plans to remove the Block function from Twitter (X) – A potentially unsafe decision.

Elon Musk made an announcement that X (aka Twitter) will be removing the block feature for public posts, leaving the function only available for direct messages. Elon is - frankly - wrong.On August 18, 2023, Twitter… we mean “X” owner Elon Musk made an announcement that the site will be removing the block feature for public posts, leaving the function only available for direct messages. He later clarified his (flawed) belief that the mute button is good enough to protect Twitter’s users.

Elon is, frankly, wrong.

Survivors of domestic violence and stalking block accounts for their own safety and mental health. It can help people share their story, connect with their support system, and enjoy the internet without the constant harassment of people who want to cause them harm or distress. And while not a perfect solution, it gives them some measure of control over their online presence even when the harasser creates new accounts for the same purpose. This is why we typically recommend survivors of abuse, stalking, and harassment block and report any accounts sending abusive messages.

Instead of blocking, Elon says that Twitter users should mute abusive accounts. The biggest problem with this approach is that the abuser can still send messages, which often includes threats, lies, and even non-consensual pornographic images. If the account is muted, the survivor won’t be able to see or address them, but everyone else on their timeline can. In effect, it gives control of the narrative over to the abuser while taking away from the voice of the survivor. This plan also makes it easy for abusers to view posts and replies from the survivor and their support system while remaining logged into their own account.

Blocking isn’t a perfect solution- there are ways around it, and stalkers or abusers know that. But taking away a tool that survivors of crime use to protect themselves is not okay. We’ve reached out to the Twitter team- and to Elon himself- to make it clear that this plan will put people at risk. Whether or not he listens remains to be seen.

Personally, we believe that Twitter will ultimately end up doing the right thing, but maybe not for the right reason. It’s been pointed out that the iOS app store requires that social media services require “The ability to block abusive users from the service.” Elon may argue that allowing users to block direct messages meets this requirement but we, and many Twitter users, can see that this isn’t enough to protect users.

Elon, millions of survivors of domestic violence, stalking, online abuse, and harassment are watching.

Additional Links:

Musk says X’s ‘block’ feature is going away

Social Media Abuse Resources

The State of Online Harassment


Our Commitment to Equality

Equality, diversity, and safety are important in May. They’re also important in July. But June is when we celebrate LGBTQ Pride Month- a time when we should all reaffirm our commitment to treating human beings equally and with the dignity they deserve. But, more importantly, that commitment needs to be firmly and unwaveringly held every single day of the year.

Operation Safe Escape wants to take this opportunity to renew our pledge to help all survivors of domestic violence, stalking and harassment; we do not discriminate based on gender, gender expression, sexual orientation, or any other innate characteristic. We believe that love is love, and no one should be denied safety and security because of who they love or who they are.

Members of the LGBTQ community are too-often affected by domestic violence and related crimes, and sometimes it can be difficult to know where to go for help. We see you, we support you, and we‘re here for you.

FCC Logo and Cell phones

FCC to Enact New Rules to Protect Survivors of DV

In December 2022, President Biden signed the Safe Connections Act into law. The Safe Connections Act required mobile service providers to separate a survivor’s phone line from a shared family plan in cases of abuse. Previously, even survivors of domestic violence required the account owner (often the abuser) permission to release the line and allow the survivor to keep their phone and number under their own plan. Of course, the abuser rarely gives this permission as another form of control.

Under this law, cell phone providers have two days to separate the line after the request is made. This allows the survivor to maintain contact with their support system without losing any of their contacts or history.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is currently considering rules that will meet the requirements of the law. Among the plans include a way to ensure calls to domestic violence hotlines don’t appear on call and text message logs, which will help make sure the abuser can’t see when the survivor reaches out for assistance. The FCC is also planning to launch a “lifeline” program to provide emergency communications for up to six months for survivors who can’t yet afford to pay for services.

When the FCC considers new rules and processes, they often have a public comment period to allow people to share their experiences and how the rules might affect them. Even more important, they listen. They have invited survivors and advocates to share their concerns and experiences to help them understand ways they can help survivors stay connected.

You too can make your voice heard. Comments are open until March 10, 2023; you can add yours by visiting the FCC Website and using “22-238” as the proceeding number. Using this number will automatically populate the subject with “Supporting Survivors of Domestic and Sexual Violence.”

FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworce said in a statement “What I learned is that domestic abuse often happens in silence,” and she vows that the FCC will help break through that silence.

“Stalkerware” developer fined $410,000 by NY Attorney General, required to notify victims

As recently reported by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the New York Attorney General fined Patrick Hinchy and the 16 companies he runs a total of $410,000 for producing and selling spyware and stalkerware apps. Such apps can be used, as the name suggests, to spy on or stalk another person, often a spouse or intimate partner. Users were able to access victim’s personal messages, view their location, activate the microphone remotely, and more.

In addition to the fine, the companies have been required to notify victims that their devices were compromised and modify the spy app’s previously-obscured icon on the victim’s device to indicate it’s true purpose, as well as providing more information if the app is opened. They are also required to post removal instruction on their website and provide links to domestic violence resources.

In a press release announcing the move, New York State Attorney General Letita James noted, “[s]nooping on a partner and tracking their cell phone without their knowledge isn’t just a sign of an unhealthy relationship, it is against the law.” Specifically, its use likely violates federal wiretapping laws, state recording and privacy laws, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), Computer Fraud & Abuse Act (CFAA), and more. Purchase and use of these tools have already led to convictions, and this move may lead to even more.

The recent move against stalkerware developers is a significant victory for those who have had their privacy violated by these malicious apps. Not only does it provide a sense of relief for survivors of domestic violence and victims of stalkerware, but it also serves as a warning to those who may consider purchasing these apps. They should be aware that they are breaking the law and that sooner or later, the consequences will catch up with them.

As a proud founding member of the Coalition Against Stalkerware, Operation Safe Escape applauds the actions taken by New York and encourages other states to follow in their footsteps. While there is still much work to be done in the fight against stalkerware, this is a pivotal shift shift toward the right direction.

Password recovery questions: who already knows your mother’s maiden name?

We’ve all been there- you go to log into a website and realize that you just can’t remember your password. And it’s not like you can easily guess it, because your probably used a strong password rather than something insecure like your dog’s name (right?). So you click that little link that says “forgot password” and start the process of getting back into your account.

The website developers made a choice at that point, and it affects your security. They might send a password reset link to your email address and let you reset it there. Hopefully they don’t send you your current password in the email itself, that just means they’re not protecting it right. It’s a bit better if they send you a temporary password that expires after a set period of time. But in many cases, they’ll prompt you to reset your password by verifying your identity and answering password recovery questions.

In the early days of social media, there was a game making the rounds. It said that your “adult entertainer” name was your first pet’s name and the street you grew up on. If I had played it, I would have been Alex Sunset, which honestly has a nice ring to it (I’ll explain in a bit why I don’t mind telling you that). But do those pieces sound familiar? “Pet’s name” and “Street you grew up on” were at the time (and in too many cases, still are) some of the most popular password recovery questions. By giving hackers and identity thieves that information, you’ve already made their job a lot easier.

Fast forward to today, we’re living in the information age. Back in the 1800s when telegraph banking became a thing, most people didn’t know another person’s mother’s maiden name unless they were a part of the family or at least from the area. So when they came up with security standards, it seemed like a good question to ask someone who was asking for their money to be transferred to a different area. Yes, “mother’s maiden name” as a security question is really that old. But today, websites collect that information for you and make it very easy to find. The other answers might be found on your facebook page or other “people search” websites.

Fortunately, many websites have realized this and changed up their questions to ones that can’t be easily found. They’re more opinions and personality traits than searchable facts, things like “what’s your favorite vacation spot” or “who was your favorite teacher in high school?” Sure, someone following you on social media might also know the answers to those questions, but the idea is that only you would know all of them. Well, maybe you and someone who lives in your home or grew up with you. That’s the biggest flaw in even these “second generation” security questions- they assume that only you would know about your memories and opinions, and that’s clearly not always the case.

There’s no delicate way to put this, so I’ll just say it: it’s okay to lie. Or maybe I’ll put it another way- it’s perfectly fine to use answers that you’d remember but someone else might not think to use. If your favorite vacation spot is New York City, make a habit of naming your LEAST favorite vacation spot instead. Instead of naming your favorite food, name your favorite drink. Be consistent, be unpredictable, be secure. There’s another benefit to doing it this way- most sites will alert you if someone tries to reset your password. You get an alert but your password remains intact.

So feel free to use my first pet’s name and the street I grew up on to reset my passwords, because I don’t.

(Just want to mention, another option is to use a password manager to store your very secure passwords. That’s another topic on its own, but if you’re going to use one make sure you’re able to protect the primary password, since it controls access to the rest of them!)

Set your own PACE

In some professions, communication is important. In the military and public services, for example, they use what’s called a PACE plan to make sure they always have a way to send a critical message when time’s a factor. And you can, too.

PACE stands for Primary, Alternate, Contingency, and Emergency. In other words, it’s a way to make sure there’s multiple ways to reach someone or communicate even if something goes wrong and the primary method isn’t an option. Broken down, it looks kind of like this:

Primary is the way you routinely talk to someone. It’s the one that makes the most sense to use and is often the most convenient. For example, many of us will be using our phone to call, text, or DM someone we want to talk to. If it’s what you normally use to talk, that’s probably going to be your primary method.

Alternate is what you use if the primary method isn’t available. If you drop your phone in the bathtub and have to wait for the bag or rice to work it’s magic, what would you to do reach out to someone you want to talk to? Maybe then you’d use your computer or a tablet- that’s your alternate method.

Contingency is what you use if neither the primary or alternate method is an option. This is often something that’s a bit less convenient, but will still do the trick. This could be a neighbor’s phone, sending someone with a message, or another way to get information across.

Emergency is when you or someone else needs help right now, and there might not even be time to send a message privately or securely. Consider how the military communicates- in most cases, they’re using encrypted radios or some other way that hides what they’re saying. But if there’s an emergency, sending out a message “in the clear” can make sure everyone gets it and can respond quickly. You hope to never need to use an emergency method of contact, but deciding what it might be ahead of time is important.

Another benefit of setting up your PACE plan now is that you have time to think about safety and security for the methods you choose. If your phone is your primary method of communicating with your support system, of course you want to make sure your phone is protected and private. But if your computer is your alternate communication method, you should probably make sure it is too- just in case you need to use it.

So set your own PACE, what that means is up to you.

The Aldrich Ames mailbox

Sending a signal, just like in the movies

Have you ever watched one of those exciting, edge-of-your seat spy movies? Or maybe an equally exciting documentary about the life of a real-life spy? In both cases, there’s one scene in particular they tend to get exactly right.

At a certain point, the spy needs to signal to his or her handler that they need to speak. Or maybe that they have information. Or maybe that there’s trouble. Whatever it is, they use a pre-arranged to send that important message. Sometimes, it’s a piece of tape on a window. In the real-world case of Aldrich Ames, the CIA double-agent would leave small chalk marks on a specific mailbox. The important part is that the spy and their contact both knew what they messages met and what to look for, and their adversary didn’t.

While you’re (hopefully!) not a spy, you might someday have a need to send secret messages in a way that won’t alert an abusive partner. With the advent of social media, this is a lot easier to do than it was before but traditional options can still be useful. For example, leaving the window blinds open at a 45 degree angle could mean “please check on me.” Posting a specific picture on instagram might mean “my phone is being monitored.” Using a specific phrase on facebook could be saying “call 911.”

If you choose to set up a clandestine communication method like this, keep the following important principles in mind:

1. Set up the signal and what they mean ahead of time with someone you trust. Make sure they understand what each signal indicates and what they need to do

2. Make sure the signal doesn’t stand out or raise suspicion. In the previous examples, if you never change the way the window blinds are oriented doing it to send a signal would be seen as out of character

3. Make sure the signal is unique and stands out, but isn’t likely to be accidentally used (or thought to be used)

4. Establish how often your ally should be checking for a signal, if applicable. Is it enough for them to drive by your house once a week to see if the houseplant in the window has moved? Should they be looking at your twitter feed regularly?

Even if you feel you can safely reach out to your support system or call for help if you need it, it’s helpful to set up an alternate way to communicate with others just in case you need it. Setting up signals ahead of time and making sure they’re not too obvious to someone not “in the know” can help you do so safely.

Proposed England and Wales law would decriminalize non-consensual deepfake pornography and removes the barrier of “intent”

A proposed new law in England and Wales will close a loophole in non-consensual pornography laws and criminalize the sharing of pornographic deepfakes without consent.

The Online Safety Bill removes the requirement for prosecutors to prove an intent to cause distress, which has allowed offenders to avoid prosecution in the past by claiming they didn’t “intend to cause harm.”

Deepfakes allow creators to overlay an individual’s face on another person in a video, often making it look like the target is performing the actions in the source video. This has been for comedic effect, such as overlaying Steve Buscemi’s face over Jennifer Lawrence’s appearance at the golden globes, or less commonly for political purposes. Unfortunately, the technology can also be used to seemingly place an unwilling victim into pornographic videos.

Partially due to a growing awareness of deepfake technology, lawmakers felt compelled to tighten and update existing laws to aid in prosecution and protect victims of fake and nonconsensual pornographic images.

When announcing the measures, Justice Secretary Dominic Raab said they wanted to “give women and girls the confidence that the justice system is on their side and will really come down like a ton of bricks on those who abuse or intimidate them”.

In a BBC interview in 2021, one unnamed deepfake porn creator said that such measures would make him stop doing it. He said, “if I could be traced online I would stop there and probably find another hobby.”