Voting can be 'life-and-death matter' for domestic violence survivors

OLYMPIA, Wash. — Protecting personal information can seem like a never-ending battle for those who've escaped domestic abuse.

"Survivors have had their voice muffled for many, many years in a lot of situations and have experienced abuse where they weren't allowed to have a voice, so to feel empowered and to feel like they have their voice back is critically important," said Trish Gregory, the executive director of the Family Support Center.

Gregory and advocates at the Family Support Center of South Sound work hand in hand with about 3,500 survivors. They said a common critical component survivors need is safety.

"It's all about them feeling safe and having that security in ways they didn't know they needed that protection from," said Jorey Stine, the program manager for the Family Justice Center.

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When people register to vote in Washington, their names and addresses becomes available online. The system puts survivors at risk.

"Perpetrators are persistent and they use a lot of technology and they're able to find people," said Gregory.

"To those individuals, it could be a life-and-death matter," said Assistant Secretary of State Mark Neary.

In 1991, Washington spearheaded the now multistate Address Confidentiality Program.

It keeps survivors' information a secret by using a post office box to protect addresses from entering the public record.

Those eligible for the program include survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, trafficking and stalking, and criminal justice employees who have been targets of felony harassment.

Advocates said the program helps survivors get their lives back.

"It means a sense of security. It means a sense of safety to them in a time that is so crucial," said Stine.

Registration for the Nov. 6 election ended Monday. Survivors who'd like to learn more about the program are asked to contact their local advocacy group.