Some abusive people, stalkers, and sexual predators can’t comprehend, “hit the road, Jack!” Their obsessions are so intense that their prey wish they could join a hole in the wall gang and go hide out. . .legally.
Books and movies have popularized the idea that a fairy godmother is out there someplace to provide you safe shelter and a new identity. This is more myth than reality and can often end up being a bigger nightmare than the original abusive situation. Black and Blue by Anna Quindlen is fairly accurate on this score.
Fortunately, the majority of states now make it possible for us to legally hide out via Address Confidentiality (ACP) or Safe at Home Programs. They are modeled somewhat after the witness protection program, but you don’t have to assume a new identity. You will, however, probably be on your own to find a new job if you have to relocate to a new area or state. This is one of the reasons I’m so intent on forming Protection Circles. Too many people are trapped in abusive situations because they don’t have a job and may not present as the best candidates due to their traumatic circumstances.
In 1991,Washington State started the first ACP, and I recommend it highly. You can read about it at their web site. Essentially, participants are required to relocate from their current residence. This makes sense because you wouldn’t need the ACP if your predator couldn’t find you now. What I love about our ACP is that I can use it for my legal address for my driver’s license, voter’s registration, government records, and business accounts like my bank. If you are circumspect about your credit report and Internet trail, etc., it can be almost impossible for someone to find you. . .unless a well-intentioned friend, relative, or professional colleague is naive and easily duped into revealing your true address. My official/business mail is delivered to my ACP address in Olympia and forwarded to me immediately.
My recommendation is that you run a background check on yourself to see all the ways someone could find you. Magazines, non-profits, and politicians are notorious for sharing mailing lists. Utility companies often insist that your bills be sent to your home address. Be vigilant and persistent. Do not use your confidential address anytime or with anyone who may accidentally or inadvertently share it. I was astonished that a state director of a domestic violence program gave me a gift of a magazine subscription and remained clueless about how this put my life at risk.
Some states call their ACPs “Safe at Home,” and each state sets their own requirements, regulations, and rules. Several states limit your protection to voter registration or driver’s licenses. ACPs are pending in Kentucky and Ohio. Illinois has legislation, but their ACP is not funded [this upsets me because former Governor Ryan’s wife demanded it be set it up after hearing my story]. If your state has a limited program or no program at all, I urge you to lobby your state legislature hard. Write letters to the editors of your local newspapers and call the television stations and talk radio shows. You can find a relatively current summary of state-by-state ACP legislation at the National Network to End Domestic Violence’s web page. Most programs are run by a state’s secretary of state or department of justice.
You can find state-by-state listings of ACP/Safe at Home Program phone numbers, addresses, and web sites within the Colorado ACP and Minnesota Safe at Home web sites. Or, if your state has an ACP or Safe at Home Program, you should be able to Google it by searching your state’s name and the words “address confidentiality program.”
Note: The photo is from the 2009 Seattle Flower & Garden Show of a garden designed by Octavia Chambliss Garden Design and created by Elliott Bay Landscape Design: Skyline Sancturary: A Terrace Garden for City Living.