I’m writing once more about Rachel Yould for the sole purpose of illustrating just how credulous some domestic violence advocates can be.
As you’ll recall, Rachel Yould is the Anchorage, Alaska woman who recently pleaded guilty to 15 counts of mail and wire fraud in her rather exotic scheme to obtain money from college loan funds dishonestly. You remember Yould; she’s the woman who won a Miss Anchorage contest several years ago. She graduated from Stanford with apparently no grade under an ‘A.’ She was a Rhodes scholar and Fulbright fellow at Oxford. In short, she’s smart as a whip. She’s also doing 57 months in federal prison and will have to make restitution of the over $700,000 she stole.
How’d she do that? Well, she somehow found out about the little-known HALE (Harassment, Abuse and Life Endangerment) program of the Social Security Administration that allows people who are victims of domestic violence to get a new social security number. The SSA encourages those on the program to change their names as well. The idea is that if someone is being stalked by an abuser, they may need a new name and SSN for protection.
If that sounds to you like a program that’s just begging to be misused, you and I think alike. And that’s exactly what Rachel Yould, nee Hall, did.
Jeffery Toobin of The New Yorker has written a fairly extensive article on Yould in the October 4 issue. (I can’t provide a link because you have to have subscription to read it.) It has much more information than any other piece about her to date. Yould, in begging the court for leniency, wrote a 50-page submission to the judge. In it she described the abuse she claimed she suffered at the hands of her father over many years. Toobin’s piece pretty much conclusively shows what I’ve strongly suspected all along – that Yould’s claims are a tissue of lies.
Rachel’s mother divorced her father when Rachel was three and he only saw her occasionally during the summers after that. In her submission to the judge, she described abuse that was, by any definition, sadistic, brutal and terribly injurious. But oddly enough, Rachel never told a soul – not her mother, not her stepfather, not a doctor, not a teacher, not a school counsellor, not a friend. Equally odd is that, although she described her father’s “mutilation” of one of her hips, her husband told Toobin that there’s no physical manifestation of any injury. According to Rachel, her father brutalized her repeatedly during her summertime visits, but every summer she returned.
Her father, Robert Hall, adamantly denies harming to his daughter in any way. Rachel’s mother says he was never violent toward her while they were married. Hall’s second wife has two daughters by a previous marriage; she says Robert always behaved appropriately toward them. As late as age 21, Rachel was visiting with her father, going out to dinner with him and even sharing a hotel room with him. That too seems odd for someone who claims to have been sadistically tortured by the man throughout her early life.
So what we have – all we have – is her word for it. To believe that Rachel Yould was abused by her father, we have to believe her and her alone. There is no one else to ask; there are no records to reflect as much as a smidgen of her claims. And that’s a problem because Rachel Yould is a liar. That’s not me saying she’s a liar, it’s the United States Postal Inspection Service, it’s federal prosecutor Rhetta-Raye Randall and last but not least, it’s Yould herself who, when given the opportunity to clear her name at trial, declined to even try. Instead she pleaded guilty to multiple counts of fraud.
But those in the DV industry in Anchorage take her at her word. Even though she hadn’t set eyes on her father in 15 years, even though she never produced a single scrap of evidence of DV victimization at any time in her life, local DV advocates accepted the notion that Robert Hall, who lived over 2,000 miles away, was an imminent threat.
Therefore, during the months leading up to her guilty pleas, local DV advocates established a “safety team” for her that soon was named “Team Rachel.” She was surreptitiously moved from “safe house” to “safe house,” often in disguise. Whenever she ventured out of her shelter, she was accompanied by an escort in case Robert Hall were lurking ready to pounce.
For Toobin to even interview Yould while she was awaiting sentencing, he had to sign a “non-disclosure contract” promising to never reveal Yould’s whereabouts. He was then driven via circuitous routes to a place that was not the “safe house” that Yould was allowed to occupy by local DV advocates. He was met there by Yould and six other people – part of “Team Rachel” - all of whom were present during his interview.
When Toobin questioned the need for such “elaborate security precautions,” given the fact that she hadn’t seen or heard from her father in over 15 years, Yould claimed “his harrassment was continuing through proxies.”
Intrigued, Toobin asked for an example. She replied that she had gone to an Anchorage coffee shop with one of her security escorts when “a man came up to me and took my picture and said ‘Daddy says hello.’” Toobin then asked to talk to the escort but alas, the man had “been out of earshot” at the coffee shop and in any event had taken ill and would be unable to talk to the reporter.
What’s next, “the dog ate my homework?”
Yould’s claims of victimization to the SSA were similarly threadbare. The SSA website says that it prefers things like police reports and witness statements to prove the need for a new identity, but if Yould’s case is any indication, it’s a lot less demanding than that.
As far as I’ve been able to tell, she submitted no evidence of abuse at all to the SSA beyond her say-so. Shortly before she applied for her new number, she went to a judge in Anchorage to try to get a restraining order against her father who lived in Georgia at the time. Apparently, that was the very first time in her life that Rachel Yould/Hall had told anyone that she’d been abused. Needless to say, the judge in Alaska didn’t have the jurisdiction to restrain a man who lived in a completely different state, so no order was issued. That’s as close as Yould got to producing any non-partisan evidence of abuse.
And yet she succeeded in getting a new Social Security Number to go with her new (married) name.
So equipped, she was able to shake down various state and federal lending institutions of hundreds of thousands of dollars in “student loans.” Her none-too-imaginative method was to sign her loan applications ”Rachel Yould” along with her new SSN, and then co-sign it “Rachel Hall” and provide her old SSN, all the while being careful to alter her handwriting in each capacity. This is a Rhodes Scholar? Tony Soprano’s boys are smarter than that.
Yould’s defense to the charges of fraud was simple – it’s all the fault of the SSA. Toobin quotes her submission to the court:
“The truth of this case, as I perceive it, is that the Harassment, Abuse and Life Endangerment program is endangering women like me through the reckless provision of instructions meted out by poorly trained and largely unsupervised field officers and government contractors.”
Oh, so that’s why you did the thing of signing under one identity and co-signing under another; the SSA bureaucrats didn’t tell you not to. That’s why you used your student loans to travel extensively, live for seven years in Japan and start a publishing venture that produced but a single magazine issue and only a dozen copies of that.
I urge people to read Toobin’s piece if possible. I just can’t do justice to the extreme lunacy of Rachel Yould, her claims of abuse and her claims of innocence. The hospitals and clinics she says she went to for her abuse, but whose records indicate none, the emails that proved her innocence but which “magically disappeared” (her words), are all there and much, much more. That the SSA’s HALE program officials and the DV advocates in Anchorage could imagine in their wildest dreams that Rachel Yould was anything but a scam artist – and a poor on at that – simply beggars understanding.
Jeffrey Toobin wasn’t fooled. Neither was federal judge John Sedwick who said her defense “borders on the ludicrous.” True, but her defense to the charges of fraud was no more ludicrous than her claims of abuse, but they convinced DV advocates and government employees alike. The former may be of no great concern; I’m content to leave them to their fevered imaginings.
But a government program is different, particularly one whose sole function is to provide official disguise to those who request it. Don’t they know that the program is a magnet for every kind of thief and miscreant? As such it should be done away with entirely. But failing that, it should be administered strictly; strict rules for the provision of evidence should be maintained; every application should be thoroughly investigated. But if Rachel Yould’s case is any indication, it’s administered by the same type of true believers who shuttled Rachel Yould in disguise among shelters all over Anchorage. Before too many more people and institutions lose too much more money, that needs to change.
Beyond that though, is the simple credulity of those who supposedly deal with issues of domestic violence. It’s an article of faith with them that women who claim to be victims of domestic violence never lie. As Toobin points out, it’s that credulity in Rachel Yould’s case that allowed her to take up space and staff resources that could have been used by a truly injured woman. For years now, the domestic violence industry as it is currently configured, has proven its incompetence to deal with the problem. There are many reasons for that, but the blind credulity of those running the system is one of the main ones.