by Chuck Flannery
WVSOS Chief Deputy Secretary & Chief of Staff
Each year, the month of October sheds light on a reprehensible truth we continue to face, as many Americans are no strangers to domestic violence. According to the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence, one in four women and one in nine men have experienced domestic violence in their lifetime. Many times, the first abuse experience happens before the age of 18. It is a horrible reality. While law enforcement should always be the first point of contact for victims in danger, there are measures state government can take to prevent abuse from happening. Individual efforts can become even more impactful when combined with others as part of a team.
The Secretary of State’s Office facilitates the West Virginia Address Confidentiality Program (ACP). The ACP provides a substitute mailing address and mail-forwarding service to survivors attempting to escape from domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, or human trafficking. Participants are able to conduct business with government agencies and other entities without having to risk disclosing their physical address, which helps prevent abusers from using public records to locate their victims.
The ACP is not a crisis center or direct service agency. It works by teaming up domestic violence and sexual assault programs throughout the state. Advocates who work in the programs can voluntarily register with the Secretary of State’s office as an application assistant, who assesses the benefits of the ACP for their clients’ overall safety plan. When it fits, it can be an important tool.
Once enrolled in the program, a survivor can use the substitute address to do things like apply for and receive child support, enroll their children in public school, get a West Virginia driver’s license or ID card, and vote. When it comes to utilizing some of these services, it once again becomes a team effort. It requires cooperative support from other agencies, the schools, the DMV, and the county clerks. Each of us plays a role in the safety of a survivor.
A program participant once shared a harrowing experience she had with a member of our office. She was on her way home from work and needed to make a quick stop at the grocery store before picking up her children. At a distance, she thought she saw her abuser. She immediately panicked. Her legs felt weak, but she slowly backed up and left the store. She said she was glad she did not have her children with her, because she didn’t want them to see her fear. She was never sure if the person she saw was her abuser. Most of us take for granted the ability to do routine tasks without incident. This keeps me mindful that there are people living in fear of being found on a daily basis.
There are simple things we can all do to make a difference. Some tips from the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence include providing nonjudgmental support to a friend or family member who is being abused, listening to them, letting them know the abuse is not their fault; supporting your local domestic violence program with donations of financial support or volunteer time; speak up about abuse; and educate yourself and others. Each small effort will add to the greater good.
Please join me and the Secretary of State, Mac Warner, in recognition of Domestic Violence Awareness Month this October. Show support to a survivor in whatever way you can. I would also like to express appreciation for the dedication and tireless efforts of the staff and volunteers at the domestic violence and sexual assault programs in West Virginia. Working together, we really can prevent domestic violence.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline is available 24/7 by calling the following toll-free number: 800-799-7233.