WASHINGTON (AP) _ Aiming to help battered women escape their abusers, the government will make it easier for victims to change their Social Security numbers to avoid being tracked.

The step, which Vice President Al Gore announced Wednesday at the White House, was applauded by women's groups as well as police, who said it would make the most terrorized women safer.

``We are raising awareness of this terrible scourge,'' Gore said after hearing a chilling account by a Quincy, Mass., woman of her mother's long struggle to escape beatings and death threats by her husband.

Gore said victims will be able to get new Social Security numbers by providing written evidence of domestic violence from a local shelter, a treating physician or a law enforcement official. Until now, the Social Security Administration has required victims to prove not only that they were abused but that their abuser had misused the victim's Social Security number.

A Social Security spokeswoman said men abused by their wives also would be able to get new numbers under the policy. ``We wouldn't discriminate,'' spokeswoman Cathy Noe said.

Stacey Kabat of the ``Peace at Home'' advocacy group for victims of domestic violence said the action marks a new era of federal government involvement in an issue it long ignored.

``I'm so pleased that things are changing, and finally government is listening to us,'' she said.

Dan Rosenblatt, executive director of the International Association of Police Chiefs, said in a telephone interview his group strongly supports allowing abuse victims new leeway in getting new Social Security numbers.

``This is not necessarily something that every victim of domestic violence is going to need,'' he said. ``But there are those who do. In allowing an individual to do this expeditiously, you really can achieve good results.''

Rosenblatt said the chiefs' association has issued a guide pamphlet to police officers spelling out responsibilities in enforcing protection orders for women who cross state lines to escape their abusers.

According to federal statistics, almost a million American women are victims of domestic violence every year.

Ms. Kabat recounted her mother's experience in a violent home as well as the terror it instilled in the children.

``I remember my little brother and I huddled at the top of our stairs, fearing for my mother's life,'' she said, choking back tears. ``We were lucky. My mom got out, but not until after enduring 25 years of my father's verbal and violent attacks and his death threats. For 15 years she planned her escape.

``We begged her to leave sooner, but every time she would say anywhere we can go he will find us, and he will take you from me, and what kind of mother would I be to let you live with that batterer alone.''

Her brother and his friends eventually moved her out of state, but the fear still lingers.

``I still get chills whenever I hear of another homicide, fearing that it could be my mom,'' she said.