Being safe at home

Program helps victims become survivors

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When a survivor of sexual assault, stalking, domestic violence, human trafficking or other violent offenses is able to leave an abusive relationship and/or get away from an attacker, it can still be hard to feel safe when personal information, such as a home address, can be so easily uncovered.

Thus was the thought process behind creating the Iowa Safe at Home (SAH) program, which started in January 2016, allowing survivors of abuse to be assigned a “blind mailbox” or substitute home address, through the Iowa Secretary of State’s office, which provides address confidentiality.

The bill passed the Iowa Senate 45-0 and the Iowa House 94-0 in April 2015, with efforts spearheaded by state Rep. Dean Fisher (R-Montour), who sponsored the bill. Fisher represents Iowa’s 72nd District, which includes Tama and Toledo.

“There were 33 other states who had these types of programs before Iowa got it, so I didn’t come up with the idea, but I wanted Iowa to have the program after I spoke with a constituent who left Iowa to go live in a state with the program,” Fisher said. “The feedback I’ve received from Secretary Pate is that the program is running smoothly, and more people are signing up, and its making a difference in people’s lives.”

People enrolled in this free program get all of their mail sent to the Secretary of State’s office, where it is sorted and forwarded to the recipients. The turnaround time in receiving the sorted mail is around seven days.

The address can be used with any city, county and state offices including: county and city clerks and treasurers, Department of Transportation and Department of Human Services, and for use on a driver’s license, enrolling children in school, and for receiving personal mail.

Deanne Raymond, Marshall County auditor/recorder, said people in the Safe at Home program also use this substitute address for voting.

“They have to do absentee voting, and their ballots come from the Secretary of State’s office, and then they’re sent to us,” Raymond said. “They can’t just show up at the polls because they won’t have a Marshalltown address (on an ID), and that would cause confusion with election workers.”

“The program makes the victims feel more at ease and safer moving forward. Safety is a big part of healing and being able to move forward after trauma,” said Trisha Hall, sexual assault advocate at ACCESS in Marshall and Tama counties.

One drawback of the program, however, is it does not remove names from records pertaining to land transfers, home purchases and mortgages, which are accessible in online searches and by visiting the database of a county assessor’s office.

“One thing you can do is create an LLC (Limited Liability Company) in which to make a property purchase,” Raymond said. “Talking with an attorney about this can help … this program gives people the possibility of voting and opening up their world again, to be a part of society, and feel like they matter.”

Jodi Bowden-Fuentes, program coordinator at LUNA in Marshalltown, who works with survivors of sexual assault, said the Safe at Home program has been a tremendous help, but she also noted how an abuse survivor’s personal information can still be accessed through online channels — potentially leading to a dangerous encounter with the abuser.

“The 411 directory, and white pages and yellow pages sites list a lot of personal information, which then can be discovered by an abuser,” Bowden-Fuentes said. “Sometimes, for a fee as low as $2.95, you can pay to see someone’s full record, which shows marriages, arrests, addresses, etc. I think these sites can be really dangerous … but I do really think the Safe at Home program was well thought out, because if they had waited to pass the legislation to consider the concerns about buying property and for online searches, there would have been a delay in starting the program.”

Participants enroll in the program for a four-year term, and are able to re-enroll when the time is up. For more information visit: safeathome.iowa.gov or call: 515-281-0145.