Photo courtesy the Office of the Governor.
Photo courtesy the Office of the Governor.

For survivors of abuse, a new law seeks to mitigate the risk that their residential address falls into their abuser’s hands.

LANSING, Mich.—Survivors of domestic violence can add another layer of confidentiality to their lives thanks to a new law signed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer just before the new year. 

The law, which had bipartisan support, allows survivors of crimes and their children to apply for identification numbers and substitute addresses with assigned post boxes for the state to mail official documents and items such as driver’s licenses. Those who apply to be part of the program will receive new state ID cards with a state post office box listed so participants’ residential addresses are not disclosed..

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Their addresses will also not be listed on the qualified voter file, and the addresses of those participating in the program will be exempted from Freedom of Information Act requests. Schools will also be forbidden from sharing the addresses of those in the program.

One in four women has experienced violence or stalking from an intimate partner, according to data by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And, according to the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, one in six women have been stalked. Michigan shelters have also faced challenges providing services to survivors who were concerned about the unforeseeable risks they would face during the pandemic, some of whom have little opportunity to be away from their abusers.

For them, this newfound anonymity is an important step forward. 

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“Michigan now joins the dozens of other states that allow survivors to keep their addresses confidential from their abusers,” Rep. Kristy Pagan (D-Canton) said. “The [law] will help offer survivors in Michigan the peace of mind they deserve as we head into the new year.”

Infographic by Denzel Boyd

Lacking that peace has even caused voter disenfranchisement, as Health.com reported in October. The journal recounted the story of a woman reluctant to register to vote because it would make her address easily accessible to the general public. That voter, whose name was kept anonymous, risked being exposed to stalking by someone who attempted to strangle her. And her situation isn’t uncommon.

“The most dangerous time for people when they leave a domestic violence situation is right after they leave,” Ruth Glenn, president and CEO of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), told Health.com. “That’s when you’re most likely to see stalking behaviors increase—and the more they increase, the more lethal it can become.”

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Glenn said the only real option for survivors to keep their addresses private is programs like the one Michigan has recently adopted. Even then, Health.com reports that experts warn that nothing is foolproof, programs like this merely add layers of protection.

“If there’s a victimized survivor who’d really like to vote, and she has any question in her mind about her safety—whether it’s because she’s still connected to the person committing violence or because she’s left and afraid of revealing her location—my best advice would be for her to get in touch with her community-based domestic violence program, which can help her develop a safety plan,” said Glenn. 

Those interested in participating must send an application to Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office. A written statement of risk if a person’s address is disclosed is required, but no criminal conviction is necessary to prove that risk.