Proposed law would protect victims' identities

Amy Kent/Clinton HeraldRonelle Clark (left) listens as Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate explains Friday the details of the Safe at Home Act during a roundtable discussion with domestic-violence awareness advocates and law-enforcement officials at the YWCA in Clinton.

CLINTON — A new bill that safegaurds the identities of domestic abuse and sexual assault survivors is gaining momentum in the Iowa Legislature and Secretary of State Paul Pate wants to share that news.

Pate met with local law enforcement officials and sexual assault survivor service coordinators in Clinton on Friday to discuss the Safe at Home Act, an address confidentiality program that passed the House of Representatives 100-0 and is currently on the Senate floor.

But Friday's visit was more than applause for the state's effort to protect those victims. It also offered an opportunity for Pate and Deputy Secretary of State Carol Olson to receive feedback from those working on the front lines of domestic abuse and sexual assault.

"We know we have a lot more work to do," Pate said. "We know we need the time to work out the details. I appreciate (your suggestions) and keep bringing them up because it makes us think. The intent now is to take these suggestions to improve the program."

Currently 33 states have an address confidentiality program in place, giving Pate and his supporters a template to work from.

What the program offers is a substitute address for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, trafficking and stalking to use on all public records.

The theory of the program, said Pate, is by providing the alternate address, participants are able to restablish a residency and "new life" while concealing the details of that new life to their abuser.

"The Safe at Home Act is an important step in helping to protect domestic violence victims from their attackers," said Pate in a press release. "Abuse counselors tell us the first thing a victim often asks them is how they can shield their address from their attacker. This legislation will help them to that; it gives the power back to the victim."

If the bill passes through the Senate, which Pate is confident it will, he expects the program to begin Jan. 1, 2016. That time will allow other details, like those discussed on Friday, to be ironed out and participants to get signed up for the program.

Any adult victim, family member living in the same home or any minor child or children in fear of their safety is encouraged to apply for the Safe at Home Program once implemented, but one requirement of the application process concerned some of the advocates during Friday's meeting.

According to the program's guidelines, eligible victims must have taken some form of legal action against their offender before they can be considered for the program.

"When it comes to that we have many women or men who come across our desks who may not seek legal options as a result, because it's not safe for them to do that," Ronelle Clark, YWCA Crisis Services director, said. "Would there be a provision in the legislation that if they are working with a victim service provider that there could be an advocate that verifies yes, this is a victim of violence, we are currently working with them, or is that something you could work toward in the future?"

Yes was the simple answer from Olson, who went on to explain the absence of those details is due in part to political divides and getting as much support from the bill early on, as quickly as possible.

But Friday's conversation and the many others Pate has organized and participated in are designed to attack some of the gaps in the introductory bill.

SafePath Survivor Resources of Family Resources Director Nicole Cisne Durbin is just glad the conversation at a statewide level is being had.

"This is what I love about this conversation right now is we're having to think through all the intricacies that us as advocates and survivors have to think about at all times, to try and stay safe," Durbin said. "This is going to require some training at many levels, various levels of training and various arenas, and to me that only raises the awareness of how complex domestic violence is and what survivors experience when they're trying to stay safe."

Clinton Herald Staff Writer Amy Kent can be contacted at amykent@clintonherald.com.

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