FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
September 27, 2007
October marks Domestic Violence Awareness Month. As a staunch believer that an ounce of crime prevention is worth a pound of safety, I authored a bill this past session giving victims of this and similar criminal acts a legal avenue to keep their residential, business and/or school addresses out of public record.
Through the leadership and tenacious efforts of Rep. Veronica Gonzales and Rep. Ryan Guillen on the House side, we passed Senate Bill 74 that creates an Address Confidentiality Program (ACP).
Currently 30 other states have implemented some type of confidentiality program. Our bill directs the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) to assist eligible victims of family violence, sexual assault or stalking by allowing them to use a substitute post office box address in lieu of a physical address so their assailants won't locate them.
Participants will also be able to use pseudonyms. The pseudonym would be incorporated into all public files and records concerning the offense, including police reports, press releases and records of judicial proceedings.
To apply, a person must first meet with a victim's assistance counselor, file an application with the OAG's office, and designate the OAG's office as the chosen mail routing designee to conceal the physical address from an assailant. Enrollment lasts three years, but may be renewed as necessary.
I encourage victims of abuse, especially serious domestic violence, to apply for this program. The ability to conceal their identities for many can mean the difference between living and dying. This presented a problem during the first years I tried passing this bill, because these individuals could not openly advocate for themselves. Fortunately, our advocacy groups came through and we prevailed this time.
As a Cameron County advocate, Ms. Lillie Champion, executive director of Friendship of Women, Inc., expressed her gratitude for Senate Bill 74. She says, "This will impact victims of abuse in our country tremendously. There has been an urgent need to have victims' addresses protected because our experience has been that even when there is a protective order…, the perpetrator will ignore this out of anger and…get the address information from the victim through public records."
The need to conceal identities remains critical. Nationwide, more than a million women and nearly 400,000 men are stalked annually, and one in 12 women and one in 45 men will be stalked in their lifetimes. Of those women who have been killed by an intimate partner, 76 percent were stalked by that partner in the year before their deaths. Additionally, 81 percent of women stalked by a current or former intimate partner are eventually physically assaulted by that individual.
Unfortunately the passage of this legislation came too late for many. In 2006, 120 women died from domestic violence in this state. Two of these victims were from Cameron County and three from Hidalgo County. While not foolproof, an ACP can be the hinge that closes the door to a stalker or potential killer, especially in cases of domestic violence, which often escalates when victims leave the relationship and seek a new residence.
Ms. Estella De Anda, executive director for Mujeres Unidas in McAllen, sees this new program as one that "will make a tremendous difference to the many women and children attempting to start a new life away from the violence, especially in the small communities we serve in South Texas."
ACPs don't just protect adult victims, but children as well. For example, in the state of Washington, 60 percent of their ACP participants are children. Limiting or ending exposure to dangerous behaviors can break the cycle of abuse for youngsters because they may become less inclined to use or tolerate violence when facing conflict.
Those dedicated to ending this type of abuse are to be saluted on behalf of the victims of these crimes. Our local professionals and volunteers, as well as our law enforcement officers, endeavor almost daily to protect victims of domestic violence and assist those trying to escape it.
During the years I spent trying to pass Senate Bill 74, I spoke with women relocated across the country hoping to return to Texas, but feeling unsafe because we lacked a program that offered address privacy. Now many can of them can come back home! I encourage South Texans to support Texas' new Address Confidentiality Program.
As always, if you have any input or questions regarding these or other matters, please do not hesitate to contact Doris Sanchez, my press secretary, 512-463-0385.