To protect themselves and keep their addresses private, survivors of domestic violence might not register a car with the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles or register to vote — things other people take for granted.
Those actions and many others create a public record, which can be accessed legally by anyone. To victims of stalking, rape, human trafficking and domestic violence, this can be their worst nightmare.
However, a bill introduced Tuesday by Rep. Mike Duffey, R-Worthington, and Rep. Anne Gonzales, R-Westerville, would protect victims’ information that otherwise would be public.
The bipartisan bill will be announced at a news conference today, which coincides with Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
“Everyone should have the right to vote,” Duffey said. “Why would we essentially take somebody who had been victimized and say to them indirectly through the system, ‘We don’t care if you vote’ or ‘We’re not going to give you the freedom to vote and feel safe at the same time’?”
Duffey said the story of someone he knows influenced his decision to create the bill.
“Domestic violence does not affect just one political party, it affects everyone, so you can’t have just one group pushing for these needed changes,” Gonzales said.
Thirty-six other states have similar laws in place.
“The stalking behavior after a person attempts or leaves a violent situation happens probably 100 percent of the time,” said Nancy Neylon, executive director of the Ohio Domestic Violence Network, which has been working with legislators to craft the bill. “I have never known any survivor to walk away from a domestic-violence situation and not have her perpetrator attempt to continue to control her and to continue to stalk her and try to find out her information — ever."
Organizations such as the Ohio Domestic Violence Network will help individuals through the process. Applications will be submitted to the secretary of state’s office, where they will await certification, issuance of a number and the creation of a P.O. box located at the secretary of state’s office.
Any mail sent to a participant will arrive in the P.O. box, where it will then be sent by the office to the individual’s actual address.
The number of people with access to the information will be limited. Other than the secretary of state’s office, only law-enforcement officials will be able to know a participant’s address, given that they first demonstrate a legitimate purpose before a judge at a hearing.
Secretary of State Jon Husted said, “If your name’s on the voter registration rolls, (stalkers) can easily find you, so we were going to work with (anti-) domestic-violence leaders around the state in helping those individuals shield their background information.”
Duffey said statewide initiatives typically cost the government millions, but this program would cost the state about $40,000, according to an estimate from the Legislative Service Commission. To lower that cost more, the bill also calls for offenders to pay $70 to $500 to help fund the program.