We have a serious problem in our country. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, more than 6 million children witness domestic violence every year. There are an estimated 960,000 domestic violence incidents per year. Twenty-five percent of women have experienced domestic violence. More than 500,000 women are stalked by a partner every year.
Because of this problem, the Secretary of State’s office implemented the Safe at Home address confidentiality program in 2007. Safe at Home provides a layer of protection for individuals — mostly women and children — who are victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, rape or human trafficking. Enrollees’ lives have been uprooted by fear, and the Safe at Home program protects them from the threats they face every day.
Recently, a flawed court ruling opens the door to potentially placing the lives of 1,500 Safe at Home participants in danger. On Jan. 31, a judge improperly demanded a Safe at Home participant reveal her address both in court and to her abuser. The court’s actions were unreasonable, and although we attempted to intervene, the courts refused to hear us and have placed every individual in the program at risk.
At every turn, the courts have slammed the door on our efforts to protect this program, denying our request to have our voice heard not once, but twice. A foundational American belief is that the courts are always open, yet the courts continue to deny our right to intervene on the victim’s behalf. It is an outright travesty that the courts have denied our right to protect this program, but we will not stop.
We need to hold our judges accountable when they make erroneous rulings, and our next step is the Missouri Supreme Court. We will not be deterred by the courts’ previous rulings. We will not stop protecting every one of the 1,500 Safe at Home participants. It is the job of government — our job — to give a voice to those who have none.
We have worked with legislators from both parties to introduce bills, including the current House Committee Bill 1 and Senate Bill 34, to strengthen the protections of the Safe at Home program.
Our amendment will make it more difficult for judges to put victims in the position of having a confidential address divulged to their abusers or stalkers.
This is not about a divorce case; this is about a fearful mother fighting to protect her children.
It should be unfathomable that a court system would not only place a victim in this position, but then refuse to hear arguments that may protect her. Unfortunately, I guess it isn’t.
Jay Ashcroft is Missouri secretary of state.