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Missouri alters program for abuse victims after court order

Missouri alters program for abuse victims after court order

April 21st, 2017 by Associated Press in Missouri News

About 1,500 people are being asked to reapply for a Missouri program that shields the addresses of abuse victims after a St. Louis County judge ordered a woman to reveal her home address because of a flaw in the application process.

The Missouri secretary of state's office confirmed Thursday it has revamped its application forms for the Safe at Home program and asked all participants to reapply — with a sworn statement about their alleged abuse — in order to continue receiving services.

Missouri is one of 36 states with programs that let victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking or various other crimes keep their addresses confidential by routing their mail through a post office box run by the state, according to the nonprofit National Center for Victims of Crime. Missouri's program created by a 2007 state law, is managed by the secretary of state's office.

The program came under scrutiny as a result of an ongoing divorce case in which a woman had enrolled in the Safe at Home program while alleging abuse by her husband.

St. Louis County Circuit Judge Sandra Farragut-Hemphill ordered the woman last September to reveal her actual address as part of the divorce proceedings. The judge said the woman's application for the address confidentiality program failed to comply with the requirements of Missouri law because it lacked a sworn statement asserting she was an abuse victim and feared the potential for further violence.

The judge denied a motion to change her order Jan. 31 and again instructed the woman to reveal her address.

The Missouri attorney general's office then sought to intervene in the case on behalf of the secretary of state's office, asserting the woman had met the application requirements and the judge's order "may compromise the safety of women who rely on that program for protection."

Farragut-Hemphill denied the attorney general's request to intervene in the case last week and ordered the woman to immediately provide her actual address.

The Associated Press generally does not identify alleged victims of sexual assault. The mother of the 28-year-old woman said Thursday her daughter complied with the order.

"This program gave her a measure of feeling as if her home was a safe place. (But) she's lost that — she's been re-victimized," said the mother, Sheila Rilenge, who said she had her daughter's permission to speak publicly about the case.

As a result of the judge's order, Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft changed the Safe at Home application formsĀ  used by his predecessors. The signature section of the new forms, provided Thursday to the AP, now say "Sworn Statement" above the previously existing wording about the applicant being a victim of abuse and fearing further violence.

Deputy Secretary of State Trish Vincent, who is Ashcroft's chief of staff, said participants are continuing to receive services through the confidential mail program while they are being asked to reapply with the new forms.

Attorney General Josh Hawley's office declined to comment Thursday about whether it would appeal the ruling denying its participation in the case.