BILLINGS - The November election is right around the corner and the Billings YWCA and the Montana Department of Justice are reminding survivors of domestic violence that they can register to vote while keeping their addresses confidential from their abusers.
“The more trapped I became, the more I felt like I was just going to be a slave for the rest of my life. Towards the end, he was threatening to kill me and the kids,” says a Montana survivor who wished to remain anonymous.
Victims of domestic violence often live in fear. It's a barrier to voting as registering to vote can put a bullseye directly on them as their address is publicly listed, often leading an abuser straight to them.
“Many victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking live in fear of the person who harmed them. Having a place they can live and know that their address will be completely confidential gives them such a sense of peace,” said YWCA Billings Interim CEO Erin Lambert.
The Department of Justice launched the Address Confidentiality Program in 2006. It works by providing victims a substitute address with a free first-class confidential mail forwarding service.
“By using the substitute address, which is actually our address in Helena, an abuser may be able to track them down to Helena, but then we protect their actual physical address,” said Joan Eliel, Director Office of Victims Services with the Montana Department of Justice.
Eliel’s team has come face-to-face with abusers and she says that has led to some pretty intense conversations.
The Address Confidentiality Program has 61 participants enrolled.
“There’s certainly a lot more victims in Montana than 61 people. The victims in our program are scared,” says Eliel.
Eliel says the program works best for survivors who are moving to a different town and completely restarting their life.
“Everybody knows everybody a little bit. If you’re moving to Helena from East Helena for example, this program is probably not going to help you that well. Same with our reservation communities. It's a tight-knit community and too many people know people,” says Eliel.
To apply for the program, the DOJ requires proof of being a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking, such as a protection order or police report, and proof of Montana residency. If you or someone you know are eligible to register, click this link: Address Confidentiality Program - Montana Department of Justice