Close to 1,000 victims of domestic violence and human trafficking benefit from services provided by the Maryland Safe at Home Address Confidentiality Program (ACP). Safety, stability, and regaining a sense of control over one’s own life are the priority – but can be challenging to attain. To meet this need, the ACP was created in 2006 to provide at risk survivors with the means of keeping their address off public record and out of the hands of their abuser.
The ACP offers a free mail-forwarding service in addition to a substitute address for participants to use as a legal residential address. The pass-through address keeps perpetrators from discovering the whereabouts of their victims. Participants’ personally identifiable information is kept secure and anonymous, and nothing is stored on the web or cloud, making it essentially hack-proof. As awareness of the program increased, so did demand. By 2014, more than 800 people had joined the ACP – many requiring additional support, referrals, and resources – and with only one full-time staff person managing the work.
“I was shocked that the program had such little support,” said Maryland Secretary of State John Wobensmith. “As soon as we were able to bring in additional staff, Anne [Hoyer, Director of Safe at Home] had the bandwidth to secure federal funding.” The program now receives VOCA and VAWA grants, awarded by the Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention. This has enabled Safe at Home to further engage professional advocates and connect more victims across the state to this important service. The funding also supports monthly trainings and technical assistance to anyone interacting with survivors of violence, including advocacy groups, nurses, state attorneys, police officers, and lawyers.
Training is of particular importance to those working within the judicial system, so the necessity of confidentiality for individuals with safety concerns is understood and the program that meets this need is properly utilized. Lack of awareness and understanding can cause re-victimization and put survivors at further risk. Some need to be reminded of the law that provides this safety.
In many ways, the ACP operates as a hub ensuring the best safety plan for survivors and linking them to key organizations that provide essential services. For instance, Child Justice, a nonprofit organization providing pro-bono legal services and advocacy for children’s rights, is a partner that has provided legal counsel for children and protective parents in child custody cases with offenders of abuse and neglect.
The ACP requires careful review of applications and vetting to ensure the applicant qualifies and that the program is used correctly. In order to be effective, participants must follow certain procedures when interacting with state and local government. The ACP staff provides assistance and seeks solutions to any other issues that may arise. According to Anne Hoyer, “Maryland’s program now has a well-educated, hardworking, and compassionate team, largely attributed to the initial and ongoing support of Secretary Wobensmith and the administration. This team has become leaders in addressing the needs of Maryland’s most vulnerable.”
On January 5, 2018, Governor Hogan held a press conference to announce a number of policy initiatives to strengthen and protect the rights and safety of victims of crime, which included expanded provisions for victims utilizing the Safe at Home program:
“The governor also proposed a measure strengthening the Maryland “Safe at Home” Address Confidentiality Program to enable victims of domestic violence to safely purchase a home without fear of their abuser finding their address. The program, created in 2006, provides a substitute address for victims of domestic violence, human trafficking, stalking, and sexual assault to use as a legal residential, school, or business address. The governor’s bill extends protection to deeds when a victim purchases a home.”
Additional program details can be found on the Secretary of State’s Safe at Home Address Confidentiality Program website.