Safe at Home Act Vital
By Paul D. Pate
Iowa Secretary of State
April is National Sexual Assault Awareness Month and that made it the perfect time for the Iowa Legislature to approve the Safe at Home Act. The bill’s purpose is simple. It is designed to prevent victims from being physically located through a public records search.
The incidents of sexual assault and domestic violence in Iowa are much more frequent than most people realize. The statewide numbers are staggering. According to the Attorney General’s Crime Victim Assistance Division, almost 21,000 Iowans receive victim assistance services at any given time because of domestic violence. Almost 3,500 domestic violence convictions are handed down to criminals every year in Iowa courts. Domestic violence affects men, women and innocent children in our state.
The Safe at Home Act will provide an alternate address for participants to utilize as their new legal address after they have moved away from their abuser to start a new life. In order to become certified in the Safe at Home confidential address program, participants must take action against their abusers, such as protective orders, criminal complaints or police reports. Participants may enroll in the program before an abuser is convicted. That is part of the success of the program – it enables victims of these crimes to be proactive toward getting their lives back on track.
This legislation cannot replace other legislative initiatives that might keep offenders in prison longer, nor does it expedite the legal procedures that might incarcerate offenders sooner. However, this program helps victims of violence start over by taking back the power and control from their offenders.
My office has worked closely with legislators on both sides of the aisle, state agencies, SAH programs in other states and public records interest groups to work out complicated arrangements related to public records and public disclosure. The fact that both chambers of the Iowa Legislature passed the bill unanimously is an indication not only of its widespread support, but also reflects that interested groups are satisfied that their concerns are addressed.
More importantly, saving the lives of Iowans currently living in fear is a worthwhile and meaningful plan. According to data from the Iowa Attorney General’s Office, an average of 13 deaths occur every year in our state due to domestic violence. This bill will reduce that number by making it easier for victims to leave their abusers and to prevent being found by them. The Safe at Home Act is real progress in this battle. It will help victims become survivors.