Some of the information on this page may have been temporarily changed by governments and courts in response to Coronavirus.
Safety is important, especially for victims of crime. Knowing and dealing with the emotional impact of what happened to you is just as important as dealing with your immediate safety needs.
Below is some information that can help you with your safety, and help you understand the impact of victimization on your mental health and well-being. Remember, if you are afraid for your immediate safety, call 911.
Impact on Victims of Crime
Trauma is an emotional and physical response to a terrible event. Some examples of traumatic events include car accidents, floods or earthquakes, shootings or muggings, physical attacks, and rape.
Some injuries – like cuts, bruises, and broken arms – are obvious. But victims of crime may not realize that their experience can also cause problems with sleeping, eating, or the ability to focus and pay attention. It can also change a person’s feelings of safety and experience the world around them.
What are common reactions to trauma?
Most crime victims have some kind of stress reaction after a trauma. Some common reactions to trauma include:
- Feeling afraid and fearful
- Feeling jumpy and getting easily startled, anxious
- Having bad dreams
- Feeling numb, or not wanting to be with others
- Feeling nervous, helpless, sad
- Feeling guilt or shame
- Being irritated or angry
- Feeling tired and having trouble sleeping
- Headaches, stomach aches
- Trouble eating
- Avoiding people, places, and things related to the trauma
- Not being interested in things you used to enjoy
- Feeling like you can’t trust anyone
You may experience one or more of these responses, and other feelings as well. All these reactions are normal, and every victim’s experience is different.
What is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD?
Post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD, is an illness that can develop after you go through a traumatic event. If your reactions to trauma have lasted longer than a few months, then you may have PTSD.
There are four types of PTSD symptoms, but they may not be exactly the same for everyone:
- Reliving the event: You feel like you are going through the event again. You may have bad memories or nightmares.
- Avoiding people or places that remind you of the traumatic event: You may even avoid thinking or talking about the event.
- Feeling alert and jittery: You may feel like you are always looking out for danger. You may be jumpy and startle easily.
- Having negative thoughts about yourself and others: You may feel guilt or shame, or find it hard to feel happy. You may feel like the world is dangerous and you can’t trust anyone.
Visit the National Institute of Mental Health website for more information on PTSD.
What can I do to help cope with the trauma?
Most people recover from trauma naturally, but sometimes the effects of victimization can be long-lasting and severe, especially if left unaddressed.
Know that you are not alone and there are things you can do to heal.
- Talk to friends and spend time with people. Avoid spending too much time alone.
- Try different ways to relax. Activities like listening to music, spending time in nature, walking or swimming can help some people.
- Seek individual or supportive counseling to help heal from the traumatic experience.
- Visit the NYS Office of Mental Health website’s Find a Mental Health Program to help you locate a program near you.
- Seek crisis intervention if you have bad thoughts.
Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255.
If you are in immediate need, please dial 911.
Please visit this Victim Services page of more information about trauma and tips to recovery.
Safety Plans and Safely Storing Evidence
A “safety plan” is a personal plan that can help you stay safe and be prepared if you are in danger. This tool is often used by people who are being stalked, or who are in or trying to leave an abusive relationship. Safety plans are unique to the individual – what works for one person may not work for another. Good safety plans should also change depending on your situation. A safety plan that works at home may not work at school, work, or other places. Some of the things that can be part of your safety plan include:
- Having a code word that you can use to let friends know you are in danger.
- Keeping copies of important documents in a place you can easily get to.
- Packing a bag with extra clothes, money, and medication (for you and your children) in case you have to leave in a hurry.
- Having a safe place to go, like a friend, family, or shelter. (link to Shelter segment within this section)
- Using a Mobile App for victims of crime.
You can find more information about Safety Plans on the National Domestic Violence Hotline website.
Safely Storing Evidence: DocuSAFE App
For some victims of crime – like victims of dating, intimate partner or family violence, stalking, or harassment – finding a safe place to store evidence or proof of the crime can be difficult. DocuSAFE is a free app that victims of crime can use to store photos, screenshots, threatening messages, social media posts, and other criminal behavior.
Domestic Violence Programs and Shelters
Safety is a huge concern for victims of intimate partner violence. Some victims may need help figuring out what they can do. Others may need help finding a safe place to go to escape their abusive partners. Domestic Violence programs can offer these crime victims and their children supportive services and a safe place to stay for a night, a week, or even a few months.
Every county in NY offers emergency help to victims of intimate partner violence and their children. In addition to emergency shelter, Domestic Violence Programs also offer:
- Support groups
- Legal advocacy (information and help with the legal process)
- One-on-one counseling
- Safety planning
- Crisis help through a hotline
- Information and referral
- Counseling to victims’ children
Some Programs offer transitional housing – a place where you and your children can stay for months or a few years.
Who can stay at a domestic violence shelter or seek domestic violence services?
In NY, anyone who is a victim of intimate partner violence may get help from a domestic violence program or shelter. Help is available regardless of your gender, sexual orientation, disability, religion, or other status. If you have children, they can get help and stay with you. Some shelters accept pets, or they can help arrange for your pets to stay at a pet shelter. Service or companion animals can stay with you at most shelters.
If you are a LGBTQ+ individual and are refused shelter, please contact Lettie Dickerson at Empire Justice Center at firstname.lastname@example.org, or a member of the NYS LGBTQ Intimate Partner Violence Network.
What are my rights if I stay at the shelter?
If you are staying in a domestic violence shelter, they must give you a list of your rights. Some of your rights include:
- The right to receive confidential treatment. This means the shelter cannot tell anyone that you are staying there without your permission.
- The right to stay in a safe place.
- The right to leave and return to the shelter as long as you obey the shelter program’s rules.
- The right to receive fair and respectful treatment.
- The right to receive and send mail.
- The right to manage your own finances.
- The right to religious freedom.
Visit the NYS Coalition Against Domestic Violence website for Domestic Violence Shelters and Programs in your county.
Orders of Protection from Family Court
For many crime victims, particularly victims of intimate partner violence, stalking, and sexual assault, (link to those sections within our site) orders of protection can play an important role in stopping the abuse and keeping them safer. In criminal court proceedings, the prosecutor can ask the judge for an order of protection for the crime victim. For information about getting an order of protection in criminal court, please see the NYS Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence website.
When the person who has committed the crime is a family member or intimate partner, crime victims can get orders of protection in Family Court.
What is an order of protection?
An order of protection is a legal document issued by a judge. It tells the person committing the crime to stop violent, harassing behavior towards the victim. It can also limit the person’s communications with the crime victim.
Other states may call these orders “restraining orders” or “protection from abuse” orders.
If you get an order of protection in NY, it is good anywhere in the state. It can be enforced even if you travel or move to another state. NY must also enforce valid orders from other US states or territories. This means that if you received your order from another state, our courts and police must enforce that order.
There are two main types of orders of protection:
- Stay Away Order of Protection. This type of order requires the offender to stay away from the victim wherever they are. Courts may make an exception for the offender to visit the children.
- Refrain From or No Offensive Contact Order of Protection. This type of order allows contact between the offender and victim, but requires the offender to stop any harassing, abusive, or violent behavior against the victim.
How can an order of protection help?
An order of protection can require the person harming you to:
- Stay away from you and your children
- Stop harming you and your children
- Limit contact with you and your children
- Move out of your home
- Give up any firearms
- Attend substance abuse programs
- Pay for the damages they caused you
- Pay for your medical expenses
- Not harm pets
- Return your identification papers and other documents
The judge can make the order fit your specific safety needs. Some order may require that there be no contact or communication at all, while others may allow for limited contact depending on the situation. For example, if you and your abuser have children together, the judge may give you an order that requires the offender to stay away from you, but makes specific arrangements for pick up and drop off for visitation with the children.
A Family Court order of protection can last 1-5 years depending on your situation. Once an order of protection is issued, only a judge can change it. If you want changes to the order, you have to ask the court for assistance.
Who can get an order of protection in Family Court?
In Family Court, you can get an order of protection against someone considered a “family or household member.” This includes:
- Current or former spouse
- Someone you have a child with
- A person related by blood (such as a sibling, parent, child, grandchild, grandparent, cousin)
- A person related by marriage (such as a spouse, in-law, step-parent, step-child)
- Someone you have or had an intimate relationship with, even if you have never lived with them
How can I get an order of protection from Family Court?
The first step is to file a Family Offense Petition. It is free to file a family offense petition in Family Court.
If a “family or household member” has committed something called a “family offense” against you, you can file a Family Offense Petition in your county’s Family Court.
Family offenses are crimes that include disorderly conduct, harassment, aggravated harassment, menacing, reckless endangerment, assault or attempted assault, stalking, criminal mischief, sexual misconduct, strangulation, identity theft, coercion, and grand larceny.
Family Court may give you a temporary order of protection the same day you request it. This order usually lasts only till the next court date. You may have to return to court several times before a judge decides on whether to give you a final order.
Both you and the offender have the right to an attorney in Family Court. If you cannot afford one, the court will assign an attorney to represent you. If the offender has an attorney, it is better for you to have one too – in those situations, an attorney who has knowledge of the law can really help you.
You should keep a copy of the order of protection with you at all times.
What can I do if the offender isn’t following the order of protection?
When the offender does not follow the family court order of protection, it is considered a “violation” of the order. Even though a family court gave you your order, violating an order of protection is a crime, and you can call 911.
You can pursue charges in criminal court for the violation. You also have the right to file a violation petition in Family Court.
Each time you call the police for help, they should fill out a form called a “Domestic Incident Report” and get your description of what happened. Keep a copy for your records. You do not need to have this report to file a violation, but it may be helpful.
Extreme Risk Protection Orders
What is an Extreme Risk Protection Order?
Extreme Risk Protection Orders (ERPO) are court orders that keep guns, including firearms, rifles, and shotguns, away from people who are at high risk of using them to hurt other people or themselves. An ERPO can take guns away from someone who already has them, and can prevent someone from buying guns.
It is important to know that an ERPO cannot order a person to stay away from you, stop harassing or threatening you, or have no contact with you. There are other Orders of Protection that can do that.
Who Can Get an Extreme Risk Protection Order?
Family and household members of the high risk person can ask the court for an ERPO. This includes people who are married or divorced, are or were in a dating relationship, people who have a child in common, and people related by blood or marriage.
Police officers, district attorneys, and some school employees can also ask for an ERPO.
How can I apply to the court for an Extreme Risk Protection Order?
To apply for an ERPO, complete the ERPO Application and bring it to the Supreme Court in the county where the high risk person lives. The judge can make a decision the same day your application is filed.
The application will ask you for your name and address. If you feel that giving this information puts you in danger, check the “disclosure” boxes near the bottom of the form. By doing this, you are asking the court to keep your personal information private.
You must sign your completed application in front of a person called a Notary before bringing it to court.
For more information about ERPO, and an overview of the hearing process, please visit the NY Courts website.
People who are being stalked or monitored should be aware of their online safety. Below are some suggestions from the National Network to End Domestic Violence that may help you be safer.
- If you think you are in danger, try to use a computer that the offender does not have direct or remote access to, such as a computer at a public library or at a friend’s house.
- If you think you may be monitored on your home computer, do not stop using the computer. The person monitoring you may become suspicious if you delete your entire internet history or change your computer use. Instead, keep using the computer for ordinary activities, like looking up the weather, but use a safer computer to research safety plans, look for new jobs or apartments, or ask for help.
- Consider using “private browsing” which will allow you to surf the internet without the browser collecting a history. Go to TechSafety.org for tips on internet browser privacy.
- Email and instant/text messaging (IM) are not safe or confidential ways to talk to someone about the abuse in your life. If possible, please call a hotline instead.
The National Network to End Domestic Violence has a Technology Safety & Privacy Toolkit for Survivors in English and in Spanish. The toolkit has safety tips and privacy strategies for survivors on the use of technology.
Cell Phone Safety
If you are worried that someone is tracking what you do on the internet, remember that smartphones may be less safe and private than computers. Here are some tips that may help you be safer:
- Put a passcode on your phone and make sure that person does not know it.
- Make sure your phone is not sharing your location with them.
- If you don't want that person to know what you are looking at on the internet, think about using a device that they can't look through, like a friend's phone or a library computer.
For more tips, please see these tips on cell phone safety and privacy.
Keeping Your Address Confidential in Family Court
It is important for crime victims to know that all court papers have your address on them, and the other person in the court case gets a copy of these papers.
If you are staying in a shelter or a safe place that the offender does not know, and you feel that you or your children will be put in danger if your address is known, then you may request that your address be marked as “confidential.”
What does it mean to have a confidential address?
If the court grants your request, then your address will be listed as “Confidential” on all Family Court papers, and removed from any papers sent to the other person in the case. All papers from the other person or the court will be sent to your “designated agent for service.” You can choose anyone over the age of 18 to be your agent, such as your lawyer, or the Family Court Clerk. Your agent must get the papers to you.
How do I ask for my address to be kept confidential?
Anyone can ask the court to keep their address confidential. You can ask the court to keep your address confidential when you first file your papers, or at any time during the case.
The Family Court clerk will give you an “Address Confidentiality Affidavit” that you must complete and sign. You can find the affidavit on the Forms Page of the NY Courts website.
For more information, please visit Confidential Addresses.
NYS Address Confidentiality Program
After escaping an abusive relationship, their home may be the only place where a victim feels safe. Keeping their address from abusive partners can be an important step in a victim’s overall safety plan. While crime victims can request that their attorneys and court clerks keep their address confidential in Family Court, (See Keeping your address confidential in Family Court tab in this section) participating in the Address Confidentiality Program is a formal way victims of intimate partner violence, victims of sexual offenses, human trafficking, and stalking can keep their address hidden.
What is the Address Confidentiality Program?
The Address Confidentiality Program is a free program that helps victims of intimate partner violence, victims of sexual offenses, human trafficking, and stalking hide their real addresses. It is not a witness protection program.
People in the program are given a substitute address in Albany, NY that they can use to receive their mail. The mail will then be re-packaged and mailed to the victims’ actual address. This prevents abusive former partners from locating victims through a public records search.
Who can be in the ACP?
Victims of intimate partner violence, victims of sexual offenses, human trafficking, and stalking who moved or are moving to a new location for safety reasons may be able to be part of this program. People living in the same household as the victim may also be able to use the substitute address.
How can I apply for the ACP?
Fillable Applications are available on the Department of State website.
Please visit the application assistance provider listing for a list of people who can help you with the application.
For more information please visit NYS address confidentiality program.
Updated May 25, 2021
Safety and Voting
Many survivors of intimate partner and domestic violence move for safety reasons and want to keep their new address private. So it’s important to remember that voter registration information is public.
If you are a victim of domestic violence, know that you have the right to have your voter registration records kept confidential, and have the right to ask to vote by mail. Even victims who are staying in shelter can exercise their right to vote.
Who can register to vote in New York State?
To register to vote, you must:
- Be a United States citizen
- Be 18 years old
- Live in this state, and county, city or village for at least 30 days before the election
- Be mentally competent
- Not claim the right to vote elsewhere
How can I register to vote?
- You can register in person at your County Board of Elections or at any New York State Agency-Based voter registration center.
- You may also submit your voter application form at the Department of Motor Vehicles, either in person or on their website.
- You can request a New York State Voter Registration form by mail.
- You can call 1-800-FOR-VOTE hotline to request a voter application.
- Print and sign the application forms that are available online, and then either mail them to your County Board of Elections or bring them to one of the NYS Agency-based voter registration centers.
I am not registered to vote and I am afraid to register because I do not want my abuser to find me. How can I still exercise my right to vote?
First, apply to your county court, Supreme Court, or Family Court for an order requiring the local county board of elections keep your voter registration confidential. Also ask the court to keep the court proceeding confidential.
Next, you must take a copy of that court order to your County Board of Elections, complete your voter registration, and confirm that they will keep your voter registration record confidential and not available to the public.
The court order for 'voter registration of confidentiality' is valid across the state and can be used for your current and future addresses. Keep a copy of the order if you move to another home and bring it to your new County Board of Elections.
I am a victim of domestic violence, but I already registered to vote. Is it too late to have my voter registration record be kept confidential?
No. If you are a victim of domestic violence, you can still petition Supreme, County or Family Court for an order requiring the board of elections keep your voter registration confidential. Once you get the order, you must take a copy of that court order to your County Board of Elections, complete your voter registration, and confirm that they will keep your voter registration record confidential and not available to the public.
The court order for voter registration of confidentiality is valid across the state and can be used for your current and future addresses. Keep a copy of the order if you move to another home and bring it to your new County Board of Elections.
Who can ask for their voter registration information to be kept confidential?
To petition the court and request your information be confidential:
- The voter must be a victim of domestic violence,
- The acts resulted in actual physical or emotional injury or created a substantial risk, and
- The acts were committed by a family or household member.
I am registered to vote in one county (for example, Erie), but I fled to another county in New York State (for example, Oswego) because of domestic violence. Can I still vote? How?
You can vote by mail using a special ballot (which is similar to an absentee ballot). You must provide your county Board of Elections with a signed written statement saying:
- You are a victim of domestic violence,
- You left your home because of domestic violence, and
- You wish to cast a special ballot in the next election because of the threat of emotional or physical harm to yourself or your family members.
This statement must also include your address of registration. Contact the County Board of Elections in the county that you are registered to vote and from which you fled. Ask for their procedures for obtaining a special ballot. They may have a special form for you to complete. Example: Special Ballot application - Albany County and Essex County Special Ballot application.
The special ballot is not commonly used, so it is very important to have a copy of the law to show or send the County Board of Elections so they understand what you are asking.
I am registered to vote but I am now staying in a domestic violence shelter. Can I still vote?
If you are a victim of intimate partner or domestic violence and are staying at a shelter, you can vote by mail using a special ballot (which is similar to an absentee ballot). You must provide your County Board of Elections with a signed written statement saying:
- You are a victim of domestic violence,
- You left your home because of domestic violence, and
- You wish to cast a special ballot in the next election because of the threat of emotional or physical harm to yourself or your family members.
This statement must also include your address of registration. Contact the County Board of Elections in the county that you are registered to vote. Ask for their procedures for obtaining a special ballot. They may have a special form for you to complete. Example: Special Ballot application - Albany County and Essex County Special Ballot application.
The special ballot is not commonly used, so it is very important that you have a copy of the law to show or send the County Board of Elections so they understand what you are asking.
I participate in New York State’s Address Confidentiality Program. How do I register to vote?
If you already participate in the Address Confidentiality Program, you can contact the Board of Elections directly for help in voting without disclosing your actual address.
NYS BOARD OF ELECTIONS
40 NORTH PEARL STREET, SUITE 5
ALBANY, NY 12207-2729
For more information, see NYS Address Confidentiality Programs’ Frequently Asked Questions.
You can find more information on the following:
- Voting and survivor privacy
- Voting rights if you are homeless
- Everything you need to vote in your state election center
- Registering to vote or updating your voter information in NYS
- General voter information and information for domestic violence victims
Updated July 1, 2021
Offender Custody Status
It is important for victims of crime to know if the person who committed a crime against them has been released from prison, has escaped, is being transferred, or has died. Knowing offenders’ status within the state’s prison system can help victims stay safe and offer them peace of mind. DOCCS and VINE empower victims of crime with this knowledge.
What is DOCCS?
DOCCS - Department of Corrections and Community Supervision - is a resource that provides victims of crime with written notice when a person is released from prison or is scheduled a Parole Board interview. If you register with DOCCS, you can provide a Victim Impact Statement to a Parole Board, receive results of NYS Parole Board interviews, and access apology letters written by the incarcerated individuals.
How can I access DOCCS?
Victims can register to receive these written notifications by completing the DOCCS' OVA Notification Form.
What is VINE?
VINE – Victim Information and Notification Everyday – is a service that lets crime victims and other concerned citizens get timely and reliable information about people who are in the prison system.
How can I access VINE?
You can call a toll-free number, visit the online portal, or use the mobile app to anonymously check on an offender’s custody status.
VINELink.com is the online portal that can be accessed 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The toll-free phone support is available 24/7/365 for callers who need help locating an offender, registering for notifications, or accessing victim services in their areas. Over 200 languages are available via live operator support. Call 1-866-277-7477.
The VINELink Mobile App lets you access information right from your mobile device. It is free.
Victims can also register to receive automated notifications about changes in the offender’s status through phone, email, text, or TTY (for hearing impaired).
For immediate help and to report a crime, call 911.
Need help paying for food, housing utilities, or child care? Do you need help with healthcare, disability, vocational or other services?
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline - confidential support for people in distress:
Adult Protective Services:
The New York State Hotline for Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence:
- Text (844) 997-2121
- Call (800) 942-6906
National Human Trafficking Hotline:
- Call (888) 373-7888 (TTY: 711)
- Text 233733
LGBT National Hotline:
- Call (888) 843-4564