Model & Strategy
FreeFrom works to dismantle the nexus between gender-based violence and financial insecurity so that survivors have the opportunity to thrive and live free from abuse. Financial insecurity is the number one threat to a survivor’s long-term safety, as it is the chief motivator for survivors who remain in or return to abusive relationships. Currently, however, most shelters and emergency services have little to no programming or support geared towards achieving financial stability. Many service providers are survivors themselves, struggling with similar challenges as their clients, and find it difficult to focus on building a foundation for success for themselves and their clients without the tools and support needed.
FreeFrom has a three-pronged strategy for transforming our response to domestic violence, building capacity within the domestic violence movement to support survivors’ financial recovery, using innovative strategies to reach survivors directly with self-help tools and resources, and removing structural barriers to survivors’ financial security through policy and regulatory reform.
FreeFrom believes in the creativity, resourcefulness, and power that each survivor has to achieve financial independence and to build communities that support individual, intergenerational and collective healing. Their holistic strategy is responsive to the needs of survivors and supports their agency in determining their own path towards financial, physical and emotional well-being.
Sonya Passi is working to transform the way we address domestic violence in the US, from a short-term, crisis intervention, band-aids approach toward a focus on long-term recovery and safety for survivors, their families, and their communities. She grew up, like most of us, in and around abuse of different kinds. She watched her aunt start a business out of necessity to make ends meet and put food on the table because of domestic violence and watched many other adults around her stay in abusive situations out of financial necessity. From a very young age, she understood that if you aren’t safe in your own home, you could never really feel safe anywhere in the world. Immersed in human rights principles as a young teenager, she was clear that safety in the home is a basic human right.
At 16 years old, Sonya began hosting domestic violence awareness weeks at her high school. In college at Cambridge University, she started a group that was educating campus students about intimate partner violence and, as a second-year student at UC Berkeley School of Law, she co-founded the Family Violence Appellate Project (FVAP). FVAP has transformed the legal landscape for survivors in California, by providing pro bono appellate legal services and creating binding case law to support survivors across the state. She moved on from this organization, which remains a thriving nonprofit, to found FreeFrom and attack the root problem of financial insecurity for domestic abuse survivors on a national scale.
FreeFrom’s train-the-trainer model teaches service providers who work directly with abuse survivors the basics of financial coaching and has trained 146 individuals in seven cities across the U.S. with a growing pipeline.
FreeFrom developed an online Self-Help Compensation Tool that walks survivors through their legal options in the aftermath of abuse. It is used in all 50 states and 86% of users say they are more likely to pursue compensation after using it.
FreeFrom launched a Safety Fund in March 2020 for survivors who were struggling to make ends meet and stay safe as the COVID-19 pandemic began affecting the U.S. So far, it has disbursed $266K in small cash grants to more than 1,100 survivors.