Domestic violence victims have a legal way to keep their addresses secret, and that may be propitious given a recent report of a spike in deaths from domestic violence this year in Pima County.
A state system called the Address Confidentiality Program allows victims to hide their addresses from potential perpetrators by assigning fictitious addresses to be used in documents such as school records and certain medical forms.
That means someone accessing the forms using the state's public records laws cannot find the victims' real addresses.
"The Arizona Constitution protects victims from having their address disclosed in criminal cases," said Betty McEntire, director of the program in the Arizona Secretary of State's Office. "This is just taking this one step further for these victims who have a heightened sense of danger and lethality attached to their situation."
While state law protects victims' addresses doesn't mean they aren't ever disclosed, she said.
“We see that sometimes, frequently, where victims' addresses are disclosed not with any maliciousness, but by accident," McEntire said. "With our participants they could actually use their substitute address and if it got disclosed, that's actually the point; let this address get disclosed and it's fine."
Any mail sent to the fictitious address gets forwarded to the person's real address, which only the secretary of state's office and the victim know.
More than 70 families, totaling 180 people, are enrolled in the Address Confidentiality Program. People must re-enroll every four years, if they still feel they need to keep their out of public records.
State lawmakers created the program in 2011, with nearly unanimous support, and a year ago people were able to apply to participate. In response to those who argue that addresses should not be hidden, McEntire said the records are not being substantially changed.
“We're not sealing a record or we're not eliminating a record from existing," she said. "We're just stating that the person's address is the address that is their legal address of record, so the public records request would not change from people who need to know if an encounter occurred from a public agency."
A requirement for enrollment in the program is that victims must have relocated to addresses unknown to the perpetrators. For example, someone who lived with an abuser, then got divorced, would have to move from the home they shared before enrolling in the program.
“We're trying to protect them, and not knowing where they're at is what makes the program work," she said.
To find out more about how to enroll in the program, go online, call 602 542-1653, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.