Address Confidentiality Program
State Senator Nita Rinehart was holding a "town hall" meeting in her northeast Seattle district when a woman in the audience stood up to speak. The woman said she couldn't risk voting for Rinehart, or anyone else. If she registered, her address would become a public record. That could allow the person who had been abusing her to track her.
Rinehart never got the women's name. But she spurred the 1991 creation of Washington's first-in-the-nation plan to protect victims of domestic violence. Called the Address Confidentiality Program, it's another example of Washington leading the way on women's issues. Some 39 other states have adopted similar strategies. Washington's ACP has expanded to include victims of stalking, sexual abuse and trafficking, as well as criminal justice employees threatened or harassed because of their work.
The program works like this: Because everyday necessities, such as a driver's license, create public records, the state provides those who want confidentiality with a "substitute address" in Olympia. They might reside anywhere in the state, but an abuser can't tell that from public records. Mail to ACP participants goes to the Olympia address. State workers then forward it to a participant's confidential location.
Address confidentiality is not a panacea, says Mary Pontarolo, former executive director of Olympia's SafePlace. The fact that ACP serves 4,700 Washingtonians shows how pervasive problems remain. But as part of an overall safety plan it helps survivors, she says.